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THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 

OF CALIFORNIA 

RIVERSIDE 



SHOUTS AND MURMURS 



SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

ECHOES OF A THOUSAND 
AND ONE FIRST NIGHTS 



BY 

ALEXANDER WOOLLCOTT 

AUTHOR OF "MRS. FISKE," "THE COMMAND 
IS FORWARD," ETC. 




NEW YORK 

THE CENTURY CO. 

1922 



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n ^^Ui^ 



W' 



Copyright, 1922, by 

Tee Century Co. 

Copyright, 191 7-1922, by 

The New York Times Company 

Copyright, 1921, by 

The Ridgeway Company 

Copyright, 1922, by 

George H. Doran Company 

Copyright, 1922, by 

Vanity Fair Publishing Co. 

Copyright, 1922, by 

Theatre Magazine Co. 



Printed in U. S. A. 



FOREWORD 

And there sat in the circle at the Players' Club 
one who spoke always with the accent of au- 
thority, giving firmly the impression that his 
own story and the story of the theater were two 
inseparable strands of the same woof. Indeed, 
he sometimes referred casually and hazily to 
five seasons passed at dear old Drury Lane. But 
one day some one asked him point-blank what 
his roles there had been. He had to explain then 
that his talent had always been devoted to off- 
stage noises. Finally he showed a Drury Lane 
program, yellowed and creased and wine-stained. 
There his name was at the end of the cast and 
opposite it was the role assigned him — Shouts 
and Murmurs. Old Fable. 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTES PAGE 

I Behind the Scenes i 

1. An Emergency Masterpiece . . 6 

2. O. Henry, Playwright ... 15 

3. The Shadow on a Great Success 31 

II The Knock at the Stage-door. . . 41 

1. "Born of Strolling Players" . . 41 

2. The Swarming Amateurs . . 53 

3. Dr. Gundelfinger 57 

III Gunpowder Plots 68 

IV Capsule Criticism 77 

V For the Kiddies 88 

VI Bitter Memories 96 

VII The Terrible Translation . . . 104 

VIII Another Foreign Author . . . . iio 

IX The Celebrated Decline of the 

Drama 125 

X Presenting "Fogg's Ferry" . . . 137 
vii 



viii CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

XI Eugene O'Neill ..,..,. 144 

1. "Beyond the Horizon" . . >. 148 

2. "The Emperor Jones" . . . 156 

3. "The Hairj- Ape" 161 

XII Deburau, Pere, and Guitry, Fils . . 171 

XIII The Legend of "Peter Pan" . . . 185 

XIV It Was "Trilby" 212 

XV "Palmy Days" 223 

XVI Mr. Tinney 236 

XVII The "Chauve-Souris" 247 

XVIII Zowie; or, The Curse of an Akins 

Heart . ... ... ....... 255 



SHOUTS AND MURMURS 



SHOUTS AND MURMURS 



BEHIND THE SCENES 

IN proposing here a little journey behind the 
scenes of some of the plays over which we 
have all smiled and sighed, I am suggesting no 
actual expedition through the stage-door. For the 
ingenuous, that is a portal of disillusionment, 
leading to a place of darkness and ropes and 
strange fusty smells and stranger subterfuges. It 
is a journey not to be recommended. 

There you will find that the tossing, wind- 
swept sea of "Ben-Hur" is but a painted ocean, 
animated from beneath by a number of needy 
youths who lie on their backs and kick for a small 
nightly consideration. There you will find that 
the melon they eat in "The First Year" is but a 
poor papier-mache, stuffed (like stuffed celery) 
with bits of inexpensive apple fed to the actors 
by a scornful and thrifty property-man. 



2 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

There you may find, as I did, that Henry Clegg, 
that mean, shifty little sport of St. John Ervine's 
invention, was, most incongruously, a rabid col- 
lector of Masefield's "The Faithful," of which I 
found no less than eighteen copies when I got too 
near Henry's book-shelf on the Garrick stage. 
There you may undergo the shock of seeing the 
king, who had swept so magnificently and so care- 
lessly up the marble staircase of his palace, now 
painfully undertaking the descent on the reverse 
side of the scenery, picking up his ermine like 
Victorian petticoats over a puddle and groping 
for the ladder rungs with poor, stringy, unkingly 
shanks. 

There, in extreme cases, you may even find that 
the queen, who from the sixth row on the aisle 
had seemed so shy and delicately fastidious a 
lady, is, on closer inspection, a person of coarse 
mien, a good fifteen years older than she had 
seemed, given, when provoked, to a fishwife's 
vocabulary and prone, when depressed, to finding 
solace in gin. 

And you yourself are likely to appear in an 
unfavorable light and even to have your mission 
misinterpreted. I am thinking sourly of one eve- 
ning when an innocent errand took me back-stage 



BEHIND THE SCENES 3 

and I was somewhat violently mistaken for a 
process-server in pursuit of the wage earned there 
weekly by the talented actress who was ruined 
each night in the antecedent action of the play 
then in the bills. And I think there is a moral 
for all of us to ponder in the back-stage mishap 
which befell Charles Hanson Towne, poet, bon 
vivant^ and some time editor of "McClure's 
Magazine." 

For years Mr. Towne had cherished an ardent 
admiration for Mrs. Fiske. He longed to know 
her, yet, while his wanderings in the city had 
brought him at one time or another into converse 
with most of the players of the day, it so hap- 
pened that he never encountered Mrs. Fiske, who 
is the lady of the byways, never easy to find. 
Finally, however, his great chance came. At 
Henry Miller's Theater in New York there was 
to be a benefit, one of those endless benefits which 
constituted New York's share of the burden of 
the war. Mr. Towne was on the committee of 
arrangements and Mrs. Fiske was to be on the 
program. While she was on the stage, reading 
a poem probably, he planted himself in the wings, 
beneath the switchboard, ready to waylay her 
when she should come off. Off she came and 



4 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

there was Mr. Towne blocking her path. *'Mrs. 
Fiske," he said, and then poured out, in lyric 
prose, the admiration he had been nourishing 
these many years. It was, I have since heard, a 
lovely speech, and well delivered, I am sure. At 
the end of it Mrs. Fiske tapped him affably on the 
arm with her lorgnette, gave him one rewarding, 
devastating smile, and, as she tripped off to her 
dressing-room, murmured: "Thank you, Mr. 
Electrician." 

No, an actual journey back-stage is not to be 
recommended,. I am suggesting rather an excur- 
sion among the circumstances which have deter- 
mined certain of the plays of to-day, a look into 
the biographies of certain tragedies and comedies 
which are alive now in the theater here or abroad. 
Of every play that finds its way to an audience 
in New York or London, a story of mishap and 
aspiration might be told, a story unknown to the 
fellow who sees only what is to be seen within 
the frame of the proscenium arch, but which, if 
known, would, I think, add measurably to his 
pleasure in the memories of the performance. 

I am uneasily aware that such pokings about 
into the invisible regions of the theater are un- 
known in the high and dry places of dramatic 



BEHIND THE SCENES 5 

criticism, but it seems to me that they are not 
illegitimate. I suspect they are considered a trifle 
infra dig., but they furnish pleasant excursions 
and, it seems to me, legitimate ones. Of course, 
if the playwright under examination is dead, it 
is not considered too inquisitive and journalistic 
to weave some of the circumstances of his life into 
the accounts of his work, and if he has been dead 
so long that you cannot find out anything about 
him then your mere attempt to do so will be re- 
warded with at least one LL.D. But if he is 
alive and you can conduct your research by no 
more difficult and ingenious a process than that 
of walking down the street and asking him, why, 
then it just is n't done. 

For my own part, I like to know of "The Green 
Goddess," for instance, that the veteran and pre- 
viously blameless dramatic critic who wrote it 
was moved to do so because he dreamed its 
scenario. I like to know of the pensive 
"Deburau" that it was written by a farceur in the 
belief that he had only a year left to live on 
earth. I like to review O'Neill's plays in terms 
of his unusual heritage and his unusual prepara- 
tions, and I believe that some reference to that 
heritage and some account of his sea-rovings be- 



6 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

long in any decently communicative review of an 
O'Neill play as it comes along. Of such in- 
quiries and such reports the pages of this book 
are full. 



An Emergency Masterpiece 

OUIETLY, modestly, with none of the pre- 
liminary boasting which is so often the 
work of the weaker psychologists of the theater, 
a little homespun comedy sneaked into New York 
in October, 1920, and established itself overnight 
as one of the best, if not the best, ever written by 
an American. It is called "The First Year" and 
is the work of Frank Craven. He has fashioned 
for himself a piece so unpretentious, so true, and 
so enormously amusing that it will find a response 
and a welcome in every American town that is 
big enough to have a theater at all. If the ordi- 
narily successful comedy could run, or at least 
hobble, a whole season on Broadway, there seemed 
to be no good reason why "The First Year" should 
not run forever. 

The words of the title refer to the fact that the 



BEHIND THE SCENES 7 

first year of married life is the hardest, that a 
girl can never really know whether she has con- 
fided herself to the right man until after she has 
lived with him for a while, when, after consider- 
able regrets and misgivings, it is more likely than 
not to dawn on her that her choice was somehow 
good. The slightly tipsy and exceedingly dis- 
consolate young husband, in the midst of their 
first serious quarrel, sadly advises their dusky 
hand-maiden, who has "got a offer," to "begin 
her marriage with the second year." 

This thm trickle of orthodox philosophy runs 
through a play that is as simple and wholesome 
and familiar and American as a plate of wheat 
cakes or a book by Louisa Alcott. It is a comedy 
of every-day domestic life in a small town that 
shows the kind of observation which salted "The 
Rise of Silas Lapham" and the kind of homely 
humor which flavors a Briggs cartoon. 

Usually when our dramatists write of the forest 
primeval they do so from the vantage-point of a 
Broadway hotel, composing their thoughts to the 
soughing of an electric fan and the gentle plash 
of ice in a tall drink. When they write of small 
towns, it is in memory of painful one-night stands, 
and they cut their characters out of the comic 



8 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

papers, so that we have the recurrent comedy 
sheriff and the whole horrid tribe of gosh-dem 
dramaturgy. The author of "The First Year," 
on the other hand, has seemingly thought to draw 
his material from life. It was a good idea. 

Here we have a play so natural that all around 
you in the audience you can see people nudging 
each other and hear them whispering: "Isn't 
that just like us !" — a play so utterly untheatrical 
that it gets breathless over such humdrum crises 
as the serving of the soup before the melons. 

Yet "The First Year" is the work of a Broad- 
way actor — the nervous rush work of an actor 
frankly in need of a job. 

That such a play should have come to us from 
such a person is only superficially surprising. 
Back of "The First Year" are all the conditions 
which make (and always have made) for good 
work in the theater. Such work, from Shakspere's 
day down to John Drinkwater's, has always been 
done by people who were of the theater and yet 
not of it, playwrights and players who were 
workers within the theater's walls and yet some- 
how had learned, mentally or physically, to get 
away from it. 

To begin with, Frank Craven was born of show 



BEHIND THE SCENES 9 

folks. They say his lineage can be traced direct 
to that eighteenth-century giant of the English 
circus who, after his retirement, set up the 
Craven's Head Inn in Covent Garden. But, any- 
way, his father and mother were modest troupers 
in the theater of the seventies and eighties and 
were playing with the Nat Goodwin-Eliza 
Weathersby Froliques when Mrs. Craven had to 
drop out of the cast in time to permit Frank's 
advent into the world. She caught up with the 
company a little later and Jennie Weathersby 
stood sponsor at his christening. When his first 
play, "Too Many Cooks," was staged on Broad- 
way seven years ago, one of the best performances 
in it was given by the author's godmother. 

Craven seems to have spoken his first lines from 
the stage as soon as possible after his learning 
to speak at all. That was when he was three, and 
the play was that trusty old stand-by, "The Silver 
King." Afterward he played many parts, often 
a mere walking gentleman, or rather toddling 
gentleman, going on in his mother's wake, as 
when, for instance, his father and mother acted 
Mr. and Mrs. Micaivber and Master Craven 
played one of the many reasons why that great 
lady would never desert Mr. Micmvber. 



10 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Those were the days when it was an established 
New England custom for needy troupers to take 
a town hall or op'ry-house for Thanksgiving or 
Christmas and put on a show in the hope of pay- 
ing for their own festal meals thereby. Of such 
"turkey dates," as they were called, the Cravens 
kept many. They would get through the lean 
months somehow as summer boarders, and it was 
at such a farm-house near Reading, Massachu- 
setts, that young Craven was deposited to grow 
up and go to school. 

From a youngster of five to a sapling of 
eighteen he was a farm boy doing all the chores 
and going through all the phases of young Jack 
Hazard, riding old Dobbin bareback to the 
meadow and melting away each summer when the 
hay had to be pitched to the high, stifling mow. 
In winter he went to the district school two miles 
from home, where there would be an attendance 
of as many as thirteen pupils on those days when 
the snow-drifts did not block the roads or when 
the needs of spring plowing did not decimate the 
roll. Often only two pupils made the grade (as 
you might say), and one of these would usually 
be Craven. You may be uneasily aware that this 
sounds like a biography leading straight to the 



BEHIND THE SCENES ii 

White House rather than to the playhouse, but 
whether or not Craven would rather be right than 
President, you may be dead sure that he would 
rather be playwright than President. 

He was eighteen and working in the canning 
factory when chance ran him into an old stage 
friend of his folks, and the first thing he knew 
they were for trying him out as an actor. The 
play, as it happens, was still "The Silver King," 
for theatrical fare in America had undergone no 
revolutionary changes in the intervening fifteen 
years. Thus Craven went back to the stage, 
carrying with him memories and instincts and 
sympathies he could not have had if he had never 
left it. Many of these appear in "The First 
Year." 

This comedy of his is full of the little touches 
of lifelikeness which keep an audience warm with 
what, for want of a defter term, must Be called 
the emotion of recognition. They are such 
vignettes of humanity as writers note and tuck 
away in their memories meaning to use some time. 
You would swear "The First Year" was a play 
over which its author had thus puttered lovingly 
for many a season. It is, therefore, the more dis- 
concerting to learn that Craven wrote it not be- 



12 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

cause, after long accumulation, it fairly clamored 
for expression, but because no one seemed to be 
offering him a part and he was in need of one; 
that he wrote it in a great hurry because that need 
was urgent. He began it in the middle of the 
night and in a time of great discouragement just 
twelve weeks before the New York premiere. 

It had been a long time since he had had any 
success in the theater. He had tried two plays and 
they had failed. He had ventured to London, 
where an old favorite of his, "Too Many Cooks," 
was being put on with an otherwise English cast 
and under a* contract so disadvantageous that, 
after a faltering run of two weeks, it was ruth- 
lessly evicted. Suffering by this time from a seri- 
ous inferiority complex and incidentally from an 
acute shortage of funds, he came home and went 
to work on a new play, and when two acts were 
written he carried them around one Sunday eve- 
ning to read them aloud to those shrewd men of 
the theater, John Golden and Winchell Smith, 
as prospective producers. 

They listened politely, suggested some changes, 
said they would n't mind hearing the last act when 
he had finished it, and helped him to a cab. When 
the tottering Craven reached home, he said: 



BEHIND THE SCENES 13 

"Well, that V cold I" and buried the unfinished 
script in his mental scrap-basket. 

He would try once more. What should it be 
about? Well, once when he and Mrs. Craven 
had been playing pinocle in a Chicago hotel, they 
were talking about the first year of married life 
being the stormy one, and Craven said that it 
might serve as a good theme for a play some time. 
Out of his subconsciousness he now fished that 
random idea, sketched a rough scenario, sent for 
some black coffee, put his pencil to paper, shut his 
eyes, saw a small-town sitting-room at lamplight 
time, saw the father reading the local paper, the 
mother sewing, the daughter strumming at the 
piano while she waited for the grist of evening 
callers. He listened. They began to talk. He 
began to write. The first act, pretty much as 
you see it now, was finished before he went to 
bed. 

If nowadays Craven is being complimented for 
this work ground out under great pressure, if he 
is being petted and puffed for his great wisdom 
and penetration in devising certain touches and 
twists which, as a matter of honest fact, he shoved 
hurriedly into his play without thinking about 
them, why, it only evens up for laborious past 



14 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

efforts of his which somehow went unnoticed, and 
it is, in his own case, history repeating itself. 

Craven's biggest success as an actor was scored 
at the Playhouse that September night in 1911 
when he walked off with most of the honors of 
George Broadhurst's vigorous and even violent 
comedy, "Bought and Paid For." His role then 
was that of Jimmy Gilley^ the fourteen-dollar-a- 
week shipping-clerk who adhered so expertly to 
his wealthy brother-in-law. It was an uncom- 
monly droll performance, which he played to the 
hilt. The next morning the papers were full of 
him, and what amused him most was the critical 
approval paid his painstaking costume, which was 
at once sporty and threadbare, even to the socks. 
Actually his socks got a notice all by themselves 
as a supremely ingenious bit of theatrical costum- 
ing. Of course Craven smiled and buried deep 
the fact that he had selected those socks because 
they were the only pair he had in the world. 

It had been a lean period before that rescuing 
role of Jimmy Gilley came along, His mother's 
last illness had come just the summer before, and 
from her high rooms in Forty-eighth Street he had 
been wont to look down to where the builders 
were completing the Playhouse in time for the 



BEHIND THE SCENES 15 

new theatrical year. He had grinned when she 
used to say cheerily : "You never can tell, Frank. 
You might play there some time." 

But so it came to pass. The play of Broad- 
hurst's was chosen to open the new theater. Be- 
fore the premiere, Mrs. Craven had died. The 
night of the opening Craven, waiting for the first 
curtain call, sneaked out on the fire-escape to steal 
a few puffs from a cigarette. Dimly in the dark- 
ness above he could see the window that had been 
hers and he stood staring up toward it till the call 
came. "Well," he said, blowing a kiss up into 
the darkness, as he turned to obey, "wish me good 
luck." And so, with a trembling in his knees 
but a benediction in his heart, he started for the 
scene that was to lift him to the stars. 



2 
O. Henry, Playwright 

WHEN, if ever, they call for a new edition 
of that amiable biography of O. Henry 
by C. Alonso Smith, there should be added a chap- 
ter about his adventures as a playwright. To be 
sure, in the final stretch of this official history of 



i6 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Sydney Porter, the recording professor does say 
parenthetically: 'Tlans for a novel and a play 
were also much in his mind at this time, but no 
progress was made in actual construction." Noth- 
ing, however, is vouchsafed as to what that play 
was, how it got into the aforesaid mind in the 
first place, and why it never came out. It never 
did come out, for, as a playwright, O. Henry 
was a little brother to that forlorn fellow who 
figures in Augustus Thomas's reminiscences and 
whose successive lodgings in New York were al- 
ways traceable by stray bits of manuscript which 
had never progressed beyond the brave begin- 
ning: "Act One, Scene One: A Ruined Garden." 
To that family of dramatists O. Henry belonged. 
It was a large family. It still is. 

This is really George Tyler's story. He is one 
of those managers who are ever and always ex- 
ploring for playwrights and players where no one 
else has looked. His ardor has always been ad- 
dressed to the task of growing a dramatist where 
only a novelist grew before. He and Kipling, 
for instance, have spent unchronicled hours in 
conference over a Mulvaney play. But that is 
another story. Tyler would, I think, derive more 
heart-warming satisfaction out of extracting four 



BEHIND THE SCENES 17 

acts from some reluctant teller of tales than out 
of any contract he could sign with the most tested 
and chronically successful dramatist of the day. 
And just as the late Charles Frohman, by an in- 
corrigible and disarming doggedness, finally 
badgered the bewildered Barrie into writing for 
the theater, so Tyler hoped to make a playwright 
of O. Henry. He never encountered him on a 
street-corner or dropped him a note about one 
of his stories without nagging him to try his hand 
at a play. 

Every O. Henry story naturally prompted such 
a hope. Every one of them fairly tingled with 
the stuff of which plays are made, and much of 
that stuff, rented or borrowed or blandly stolen, 
has since found its way into theaters all over the 
world. But it was much easier to write a story, 
and for a while the Tyler blandishments had no 
visible effect. The drowsy dramatist that is prob- 
ably in all of us, and that was certainly in O. 
Henry, stirred uneasily in response to the Tyler 
proddings, but never really wakened. 

O. Henry's connection with the theater had 
been slight and discouraging. He had, in a needy 
moment, written the libretto of a musical comedy 
called "Lo," for which Franklin P. Adams in- 



i8 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

genuously fashioned the lyrics and A. Baldwin 
Sloane the music — a promising but impractical 
triumvirate whose first and only effort started 
boldly out from Chicago, wandered erratically 
around the Middle West for fourteen weeks, and 
then died somewhere, alone, neglected, and un- 
sung. New York never saw it, and neither, for 
that matter, did O. Henry. 

Then, in a sudden fit of industry, he drew up 
a scenario for a comedy, perhaps with the solemn 
intention of writing it, but more probably in the 
hope that it would impress the importunate Tyler 
and lead to a small advance of cash. Indeed, 
there is still in existence the back of an envelope 
which served as ledger wherein were noted the 
sums, amounting in all to more than $ 1 200, that 
were doled out to O. Henry to keep his spirits up 
and in the faint hope that he might actually get 
around some day to writing that comedy. 

The stories O. Henry wrote, their abundance, 
and their spasmodic unevenness can never be 
understood by one who does not keep in mind 
the fact that he was chronically penniless and for- 
ever dashing off pieces either to quiet some editor 
who had lent him money or to extract himself 
from pawn at some hotel. This continuous 



BEHIND THE SCENES 19 

pauperism is usually explained in one of two ways, 
either that he tossed largesse right and left like 
some latter-day Robin Hood or that his pockets 
were continuously drained by blackmailers whose 
silence was necessary to his peace. But really no 
explanation is urgent, for O. Henry earned com- 
paratively little money even in his most success- 
ful years, and the great sums which his works 
eventually brought did not begin to stream in 
until after his death. 

It was from such a fellow that Tyler received 
at last the somewhat cloudy scenario of a comedy 
to be based on "The World and the Door," a 
story which appears now as the first one in the 
posthumous collection called "Whirligigs." That 
story has as its setting one of those little lazy 
colonies of expatriates in South America — the 
wistful colonies of which every member has a good 
legal reason for not returning to the United 
States. O. Henry had seen them at close range 
in the unhappy days when he and the Jennings 
brothers were themselves fugitives from justice. 
"The World and the Door" spins a romance be- 
tween a New Yorker, who had shot down a fel- 
low-roisterer in a drunken brawl, and a lovely 
woman, who had given aconite to her husband 



20 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

and left hurriedly for foreign parts. The tale 
reaches its acute crisis when the two fugitives 
discover that neither victim died and that both 
of them are free to abandon romance and return 
to civilization. From that story the scenario 
was made and set aside to simmer. 

Then one Sunday morning, at a time when 
H. B. Warner, a Tyler star, was involved in a 
moribund entertainment that was sinking rapidly 
out in Chicago, in walked Tyler's father all aglow 
over a new volume of O. Henry stories. It con- 
tained the yarn which every one knows as "A 
Retrieved Reformation." I find out when from 
time to time polls are solemnly opened to decide 
which was the best of all he wrote, the vote goes 
either to that fragment, so Dickensy in its flavor, 
"An Unfinished Story," or to that rarer and more 
delicate work, "A Municipal Report." (My own 
choice would always be for "The Skylight 
Room.") But I suppose there is no doubt that 
"A Retrieved Reformation" is the most widely 
known of all the tales O. Henry told. It is the 
story of Jimmy Valentine^ ex-convict and retired 
3afe cracker, who, having reformed and settled 
down as a bank cashier, has so artfully builded 
his alias that the pursuing detective cannot prove 



BEHIND THE SCENES 21 

his identity. Just in the moment when this 
avenger is turning away, baffled, panic word is 
rushed in that a child has been locked by accident 
in the bank's new vault, a child sure to die of 
suffocation unless, by some miracle, there can be 
found in time one of the half-dozen men in the 
world so expert in safe cracking that, with eyes 
blindfolded and fingers sensitized, they can de- 
cipher any combination. Of course the heroic 
Valentine must volunteer his buried talent and, 
by his success at it, confess the suspected identity. 
And of course, since O. Henry was a spinner of 
fairy-tales, the detective does not laugh cynically 
and arrest the lad, but bursts, instead, into affect- 
ing tears and goes pensively away forever. 

Tyler read that story, shut the book with a 
snap, and began telegraphing hotly in everv' di- 
rection. Out in Chicago was Warner needing a 
new play as a drooping flower needs water. One 
message went to O. Henry, offering $500 for the 
dramatic rights. The offer was accepted with 
pathetic promptitude, first by wire and then by 
the following letter: 



22 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Asheville, N. C, October 23, 1909. 
Mr. George C. Tyler, 
Liebler & Co., 
N. Y. City. 

My dear Mr. Tyler: I hereby transfer to you the 
entire dramatic rights of the story you write me about 
— the title is "A Retrieved Reformation." I am glad 
to be able to hand you over anything that you might be 
able to use. 

But I want you to let the $500 that I owe you still 
remain owing, for I am going to write that play yet 
and soon. I 've been in bad shape for a long time, both 
as to writing and refunding. I 'm wrestling with a bad 
case of neurasthenia (so the doctor says), but I'm get- 
ting back into good shape again. I am living about six 
miles out of Asheville and spend most of the time climb- 
ing hills and living out of doors. I have knocked off 
twenty pounds weight. I eat like a drayman and don't 
know what booze tastes like. In fact, I '11 be better 
than ever in another week or two. 

I got out the scenario of "The World and the Door" 
some days ago and began to plan out the acts and scenes. 
I '11 surprise you with it as soon as I get down to hard 
work. 

I deeply appreciate your leniency and kindness and 
intend to "come up to scratch" yet with the goods. 

So the dramatic rights of the "Retrieved Reforma- 
tion" are yours and if you strike another story you like 
take it too. 

In the meantime, I owe you $500, and am going to 

pay it and remain „. , 

bmcerely yours, 

Sydney Porter. 

P. S. If you want a more formal assignment of the 

rights of the story, send on the papers and I will sign 

'em. 



BEHIND THE SCENES 23 

Tyler then sent for Paul Armstrong, a wise old 
artisan of the theater, who could be counted on to 
turn the story into a play without spilling any- 
thing, and who could also be expected to do it 
quickly, as he too was probably without funds. 
Armstrong read the story, agreed to try his hand 
at it, and vanished. It turned out later that he 
had been locked up in a room at the Hotel Algon- 
quin, but for a week there was no signal from 
him and it was upon an impresario fuming with 
impatience and uneasiness that he sauntered non- 
chalantly in at the end of that week. Tyler 
launched at once on a burning speech in which 
he gave his opinion of Broadway as a habitat for 
men that thought they were playwrights, his opin- 
ion of the faithless and the irresponsible denizens 
of that territory, and his opinion of his own bitter 
and thankless job, which, he said, he was minded 
to forsake, then and there, in favor of farming. 
Which oration Armstrong interrupted by pro- 
ducing from his ulster the completed four-act 
manuscript of a melodrama, the first of the crook 
plays, ''Alias Jimmy Valentine." The next day 
they were all on their way to Chicago, and eleven 
days later the piece was produced there. Within 
three weeks, therefore, from Tyler's first reading 



24 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

of "A Retrieved Reformation" its dramatization 
began a run which was to make reputations for 
some people and fortunes for others, which was to 
tweak and tantalize playgoers all over America, 
England, France, Spain, and South Africa, and 
which was to breed a very epidemic of plays in 
which no self-respecting protagonist would think 
of approaching the first act without a neat murder 
or at least a bank robbery to his credit. 

I often think how much it adds to a playgoer's 
interest in a piece to know something of how it 
came to be written, something of the source of its 
incident and its point of view, something, that is, 
of its own biography. Consider those first-night- 
ers in Chicago who encountered Jimmy Valentine 
in the Sing Sing scene, met with him the sorry 
procession of prison types, and finally followed 
him in his precarious flight into respectability. 
How they would have gaped had they known 
(and probably not more than one or two of them 
even guessed) that this, in a sense, was O. Henry's 
own story, that he too had been a convicted felon, 
that he had come to know the original of Jimmy 
Valentine when they were both in prison together 
down in Texas — and that at that very time, he, 
like Jimmy^ was building with his own hands a 
new identity in a new world! 



1 
^ 



BEHIND THE SCENES 25 

If this missing chapter ever does find its way 
into the O. Henry biography, there ought, I sup- 
pose, to be a foot-note about the actress picked 
up out of space to play the leading feminine role. 
For "Alias Jimmy Valentine," that company of 
Warner's out in Chicago would do well enough; 
but in addition to the play, the demands of its 
cast also required a new leading woman. Some 
one mentioned casually that there was a promis- 
ing new-comer to be seen that very afternoon in 
a special matinee somewhere on Broadway. Tyler 
dropped in, took one look, and engaged her forth' 
with — a lovely, droll, wide-eyed young actress 
who had just come in out of the provinces and who 
was already foot-sore from her weary rounds of 
the managers' offices in an effort to persuade some 
one that she knew how to act. Her name was 
Laurette Taylor. 

But that is a foot-note. And ''Alias Jimmy 
Valentine" itself is important in the story of O. 
Henry as a playwright only because it yielded 
Paul Armstrong something like $100,000, while 
it yielded O. Henry, whose idea it had been, 
nothing like that at all. He made just $500 out 
of it. This painful discrepancy was something 
which the guileful Tyler meant that O. Henry 
should not be allowed to forget. Every week. 



26 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

when the official copy of the box-office statement 
went through the mails to Armstrong as a matter 
of routine, a duplicate copy was mailed to O. 
Henry. It was, of course, a lean time in which 
Armstrong did not receive each week more for 
writing the play than O. Henry received all told 
for having invented it. After a little succession 
of such weekly reminders, the wear and tear upon 
O. Henry's spirits became visible. 

Witness this letter which arrived in New York 
early in 1910: 

Asheville, N. C. 
Monday. 
My dear Mr. Tyler, 

I had expected to be in New York before this but I 
am not. I have been putting in all my time getting in 
good shape for future campaigns, and doing practically 
no work at all. Have entirely recovered my health and 
feel fine and fit. I have done barely enough writing to 
keep the possum from the door since I 've been down 
here, but I think I have gained greatly thereby. 

Got a little proposition to make to you. 

If you '11 advance me $500, I '11 come at once to N. Y., 
establish myself in some quiet rural spot of the metrop- 
olis known only to yourself and your emissaries and 
get to work and finish a play. I will not let my where- 
abouts or even the fact that I am in the city be known 
to any one but you; and I will give all my time and 
energy to the play. 

As collateral, I can only make over to you the dra- 
matic rights of all my stories until the work is done. 



BEHIND THE SCENES 27 

The new play "Alias J. V." has inspired me to believe 
I can do something for both of us. 

If you will do this, let me know immediately and I 
will come. 

Of course if you don't care to do it, it won't affect 
our future relations. But I want to get in the game, 
and I '11 stick to you exclusively until we try it out. 
Yours as ever, 

Sydney Porter. 
c/o Jas. S. Coleman. 



The answer to this seems to have been cautious 
and conditional, for further explanation soon 
started north, as follows : 

Asheville, N. C. 1/25 '10 
My dear Mr. Tyler: 

I will be brief. Why I want the money in a lump 
sum is to make a getaway quick. Your proposition is 
better than mine, but it lacks the hastiness and expedi- 
tion necessary to a big theatrical success. As I told you 
I have been busy down here for about four months get- 
ting rid of cirrhosis of the liver, fatty degeneration of the 
heart and neurasthenia — none of which troubles I have 
ever had. But I was about as nervous and reflexactiony 
as the hind-leg of a frog as shown in the magazine- 
section of almost any Sunday newspaper. The country 
and the mountains have been worth more to me than 
money — I am almost as strong and tough as a suffragette. 

But I have (by order of the Old Doctor) avoided 
work gladly and cheerfully. Consequently I have about 
as much money on hand as was left lying around the 
box-office at the last performance of "Lo." 

Now, suppose we have a few moments' conversation 



^S SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

as heart-to-heart as an editorial on chicken-salad in the 
Ladies Home Journal by Edward Everett Hale. 

I owe something in the neighborhood of $500 down 
here that should and shall be paid before the obsequious 
porter of the So. Ry. Co. can have the opportunity of 
brushing the soot off the window sill of Mr. Pullman's 
car onto the left knee of my new trousers. I 'm not 
after money now — it 's transportation, transportation and 
a chance that I want. I can work the proposition out 
in the short story line : but it 's slow, Colonel, slow. I 
want to get into the real game, and I '11 stake my reputa- 
tion as the best short story writer within a radius of 
Asheville that we can pull it off. 

Here's what I need in order to start things going. 

I 've got to pay up everything here and leave a small 
bunch of collateral with my long-suffering family to 
enable them to purchase the usual cuisine of persimmons 
and rabbits for a while. 

I will do this. 

If you will send me the necessary sinews, I will start 
for N. Y. on Wednesday or Thursday of next week. I 
will, on arrival, secure a room or two with privilege of 
bath 3 flights above, and phone you the next morning. 
Thenceforth I am yours and Mr. Ford's until results 
have been accomplished. I will place all my time at 
your disposal until the play is finished. My proposition 
IS not unselfish — I expect to make it profitable to myself 
as well as to you. 

Proviso — 

Don't give it away to any nwigazine, or anybody else, 
that I am there. I will be in retirement and working 
for you as long as may be necessary. My mail will be 
sent here as it has been, and forwarded there. My 
family will remain here during the summer. . . . They 
«eem to like the idea of my returning to N. Y., although 
1 have been reasonably kind to them. 



BEHIND THE SCENES 29 

Now, listen. 

You know how much "front" counts. I 'm not afraid 
of N. Y. police or editors: but if I arrive there in a 
linen suit, with 'helmet and tennis shoes, what would 
Big Bill Edwards do to me but shovel me into a cart 
and dump me into the East River*? 

So get busy with your telegraph blanks. Send me 
$750 by wire when you get this and I '11 strike N. Y. 
Thursday at the latest. I 've got to have some margin, 
and you '11 get my exclusive services thereby. Take 
another chance. You can't lose. 

I am enclosing as a rather poor collateral the rights 
to my stories. 

I hate to make any new dickers with the magazine 
people and that 's why I put the matter so strenuously 
up to you. I know now how much better (financially) 
the stage business is : — thanks to you. 

Tell Oom Paul Armstrong that I hope he '11 crack the 
safe for all it 's worth in "Alias Jimmy." I got the 
press notices that you had sent me. 

I 'm awfully sorry to have to come back to town and 
write a better play than Mr. Armstrong has — but I need 
the money — he won't mind. 

With best regards, 

Sydney Porter. 

c/o Jas. S. Coleman. 

P. S. To summarize — $750 — by wire — not by an 
A. D. T. — satisfaction guaranteed or money refunded. 

This appears to have been followed breath- 
lessly by a telegram which read thus: 

Like to have funds. Do wire to-day. Will positively 
be there on time. Have cut out spending and Chianti. 

S. P. 



30 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Tyler seems to have thought it wisest to send 
only a part of the sum demanded and to do that 
by mail. By the end of February this glowing 
message came up from Asheville : 

Will arrive at noon Monday if four hundred wired 
to-day. Exclusive work guaranteed until satisfactory 
results. 

Sydney Porter. 

And this was followed by one even more urgent : 

Wire balance. Am waiting at the depot. 

Porter. 

So Tyler wired the balance, but the promised 
telephone message from the modest and secluded 
lodgings never came. The first tidings came from 
a hospital, to which O. Henry had been taken 
mortally ill with pneumonia. He had received 
the money, retained the margin, and started north. 
But once he had found himself at the gates of 
Bagdad, he had stood wide-eyed for a moment 
and then drifted happily off among the bazaars, 
stumbled on some old cronies, and given himself 
over to celebration of his return from exile. 
Tyler never saw him again. And the great Ameri- 
can play — "The World and the Door," a comedy 



BEHIND THE SCENES 31 

in three acts by the author of "The Four Million" 
— was never written. 

3 

The Shadow on a Great Success 

WHEN "Enter Madame" slipped quietly 
into New York in 1920 and established 
itself overnight as one of the triumphant plays of 
a none-too-happy season, and Gilda Varesi, who 
wrote it and played in it, awoke next morning to 
find herself rather more famous than she had 
dared to dream, there were few among all those 
rejoicing with her who saw the shadow which fell 
across this shining success. It was the shadow 
that is known as "Too late." The success itself 
was incontestable, but it could not be shared by 
the Madame Varesi about whom, and, in a sense, 
for whom, the play was written. 

"Enter Madame" is a comedy of temperament, 
a humorous, affectionate study of the tantrums 
and tenderness of a famous prima donna, such a 
baffling and enchanting first lady of the opera as 
Elena Varesi, whose sweet voice and overwhelm- 
ing charm made her so great a favorite in Rome 
and Berlin and London in the eighties. Of such 
stock comes this daughter of hers, this Gilda Va- 



32 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

resi. Her most vivid memories of her mother are 
of a radiant lady who, when her engagements per- 
mitted and she happened to think of it, used oc- 
casionally to sweep down on startled Milan, 
where her two daughters were left in the care of 
a formidable nurse. There would be a shower of 
gifts and endearments and enough maternal solici- 
tude to last all year crowded tempestuously into 
a few exciting days. Then the great lady would 
go coursing on her way, perhaps to take the baths 
at Aix-les-Bains, perhaps to descend on London 
for a dazzling engagement at Covent Garden. 

It is with just such a whirlwind domestic inter- 
lude that the new comedy deals. The play deals 
with madame's brief visit home, a lull between 
engagements in Spain and South America which 
she devotes to routing from her lonesome hus- 
band's mind all thought of taking a duller but 
more comfortable wife to his bosom. He had 
sworn he was done forever with this trapezing 
around the world in her train, but the last you see 
of him he is starting dutifully for Buenos Aires 
and carrying her dog to boot. The last line of 
the play, delivered with a flourish, is, "Exit 
Madame." 

That Gilda Varesi did not grow up to grace 



BEHIND THE SCENES 33 

some provincial stock company in her native Italy 
is due to the fact that Madame Varesi lost her 
voice in a severe illness and, with the idea of 
burying herself as far as possible from the tor- 
menting scenes of her former glory, migrated to a 
place of which she had heard vaguely and which 
seemed to have a sort of Italian name. This was 
Chicago. 

There she managed to get along somehow by 
teaching singing and, if there was not always 
enough to provide the children with fit clothes for 
school, there was fertainly enough for an occa- 
sional reception and salon when such peers as 
Melba passed by and revived Madame Varesi's 
memories. 

Gilda, the ugly duckling of the family, was a 
considerable trial to her mother because she in- 
sisted on going on the stage. Madame Varesi 
knew what heartaches it could involve, and besides 
it is just possible that she doubted inwardly 
whether the aspirant could make such a mark in 
the theater as would be expected — by her — of a 
Varesi. 

This fear was only confirmed at the meeting she 
finally consented to arrange between her daughter 
and the great Modjeska, who in her declining 



34 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

years (she must have been nearly seventy thenj 
was still touring successfully and inexpensively in 
classical repertoire. For this meeting the young- 
est of the Varesis had prepared herself by learning 
the speeches of Desdet?iona and shouting them 
out in the woods to the considerable agitation of 
the local fauna. 

The meeting was tense, the famous star listen- 
ing majestically while the neophyte poured out a 
cataract of Venetian woe. The decision, when 
finally given, was impromptu, but fraught with 
significance. 

"Gilda will be an emotional actress," she said. 
(At this point Madame Varesi dissolved in tears 
because emotional actresses suffer so.) "But," she 
went on bitterly, "she will not be a success. She 
is thin, homely, and an artist. On all three counts, 
they will not want her in the American theater." 

Then followed the promise of a place in 
Modjeska's company, after a brief practice en- 
gagement with the Ben Greet players, with whom 
she played everything from Jessica in "The Mer- 
chant" and Maria in "Twelfth Night" to the mob 
in "Julius Caesar," playing the mob with such 
transalpine ardor that Mark Antony made a for- 
mal complaint against the mob's sitting on poor 
Casar's corpse. 



BEHIND THE SCENES 35 

Meanwhile, Madame Varesi herself tried to 
instil a few principles. There is something deeply 
pathetic in the picture of the exiled prima donna, 
now old and stout, enlivening those Chicago 
lodgings with an effort to reproduce for her wide- 
eyed daughter the gesture and passion of some 
forgotten triumph in far-off Covent Garden. 

The first season with Modjeska — it was Mod- 
jeska's last season on the stage — was eventful. 
Once the star fell and broke her arm and the 
management made a thrifty effort to keep the 
tour going with the novice in the role of Lady 
Macbeth. The novice did so well that Modjeska 
promptly installed her as Elizabeth in "Mary 
Stuart" — the German Schiller's tragedy given 
with an Italian and Polish actress, each playing 
in English with an accent that could be heard for 
miles. Yet it must have been worth seeing, at 
that. 

It was fresh from such experiences that Gilda 
Varesi went to Mrs. Fiske for "Salvation Nell" 
and, in two seasons, learned more from her than 
most players learn anywhere. 

There followed many minor roles, and ever and 
always the dailies and weeklies of England and 
America gave a word or so of critical enthusiasm 
for Varesi — for her fine work both here and abroad 



36 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

as the old opera singer in "Romance," for her 
astonishing performance as the mad woman in 
"Children of Earth," for her unforgettable rage 
as the blind creature in the dungeon scene of 
"The Jest." Oh, there were plenty of plaudits. 
But always her roles were minor roles. Secretly, 
Madame Varesi out in Chicago must have felt 
that the mere plaudits were not enough for one 
whose great-grandmother had been the adored 
Luigia Boccabadotti at the opera in Rome when 
Napoleon was lord of Europe, whose grandfather 
had been the Felice Varesi for whom "Rigoletto" 
was written, and whose mother had had more than 
a little hour of triumph in the great capitals back 
home. 

Then, into the producing field in New York 
came a new manager, Brock Pemberton, who de- 
cided to make his debut with this comedy, "Enter 
Madame," which, in desperation, Varesi had 
written for herself in collaboration with Mrs. 
Donn Byrne. The play had been kicking around 
the managers' offices for many months without 
any of them reaching the point of willingness to 
produce it. 

Attendant upon its first performance were all 
the circumstances which the wiseacres of Broad- 
way regard as certain forerunners of failure. 



BEHIND THE SCENES 37 

Here was a new and inexperienced producer. 
They always fail, said Broadway. Then he had 
been obliged to content himself with the Garrick, 
a theater so far outside the familiar belt that the 
wiseacres said no one would go near it. The play 
opened without the advantage of an out-of-town 
try-out on a night so torrid that existence in New 
York was no more than barely endurable. At 
eight o'clock, just at the hour calculated to dis- 
courage all theater-goers, the heavens opened and 
sluiced the city. The leading man had entered the 
rehearsals so late that his knowledge of the text 
was maddeningly vague and he had to be prompt- 
ed throughout an agonizing evening. 

Yet "Enter Madame" succeeded. From the 
first night, its theater did not know a vacant seat 
in twenty-six weeks. Within a few weeks many 
more central playhouses were ogling it and offer- 
ing blandishments. Ticket agencies were agree- 
ing to buy all its orchestra seats for six weeks in 
advance. London theaters were cabling invita- 
tions to visit Piccadilly and the Strand. It was 
an immense success. 

And the shadow? Well, "Enter Madame" 
was produced in mid-August. Madame Varesi 
had died in June. 

The casual mention of how Varesi came to play 



38 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Lady Macbeth before she was twenty-one is a 
reminder that whereas no managers ever cast her 
for important roles, chance did occasionally. Or 
was it chance*? 

Usually the lot of an understudy in the Ameri- 
can theater, is a cheerless one. There is a strong 
tradition which forces the sickest actor upon the 
stage when the voice of the call-boy is heard. It 
is only in fiction that an understudy steps into a 
role at the last minute and awakes next morning 
to iind himself in capital letters. 

Yet, somehow, Varesi did pretty well. The 
giving of any other player's role to her to study in 
case of an emergency has had a singularly debili- 
tating effect on the actress thus doomed to be de- 
placed. Not Modjeska alone but all the others 
have given way under the strain. Thus Doris 
Keane in London, when "Romance" was enjoying 
its interminable war-time run there, lived to ex- 
perience the sensation of reading in her own sick- 
bed the glowing English criticisms of her under- 
study's performance in the leading role of that 
Sheldon triumph. 

Only Mrs. Fiske resisted to the last, but when, 
in "Salvation Nell," she had to go through her 
part with this flaming Italian woman standing in 



BEHIND THE SCENES 39 

the wings, all made up to go on as Nell if need be, 
and fairly radiating the will to play, even she tot- 
tered. She felt within her a stronger impulse to 
go on sick-report than she had known in all her 
days on the stage. Hastily she arranged for 
Varesi to understudy another part. "May it be 
that of the harlot*?" asked the aspirant wistfully. 
Mrs. Fiske smiled maternally. "With your fig- 
ure, my dear?" she replied, and bade the young 
hopeful make ready to substitute in case anything 
should befall the gaunt woman playing Halle- 
lujah Mary. A few days later Hallelujah Mary 
broke an obliging rib. Small wonder then that, in 
so superstitious a world as the theater, word soon 
spread that Varesi had brought over from Italy 
the power of the evil eye — a rumor which gained 
considerable credence once upon a time when, in 
the middle of a sensationally successful run, a 
great star announced the intention of departing 
for other climes on a matter of private business. 
The management immediately put Varesi into 
rehearsal as a substitute. She was in the midst of 
elated preparation for the role, which, after the 
succession of old peasant parts, would suffer her 
to speak at last without an accent and to reveal 
what beauty of body was hers. In the midst of 



40 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

all this, the star suddenly decided not to quit. 
They say Varesi went calmly to the great one's 
dressing-room, looked the offender over from head 
to toe, and said in a voice of doom (no matter 
how much she may have been smiling inwardly), 
*T was promised this part, and if I do not get the 
chance to play it I will poison you." 

Whereat there were gales of laughter up and 
down Broadway — laughter suddenly and nerv- 
ously stilled when, a fortnight later, the star was 
borne away for a week of serious illness. The doc- 
tors seemed to think it was influenza. Maybe it 
was. The star was John Barrymore. The play 
was "The Jest." Varesi had sustained her repu- 
tation as the most destructive understudy in the 
American Theater. 

But that was in the days of struggle. Since 
then Varesi has starred in New York and Chicago 
and London and her glowering days are over. 



II 

THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 

I 

"Born of Strolling Players" 

ALL about us in the theater to-day are the 
players who will be the Mrs. Fiskes, the 
Julia Marlowes, the Laurette Taylors of to-mor- 
row — the young fry of the stage whose names will 
be big and black in the playbills of 1935 and 
1940. Of these youngsters, none is lovelier, none 
has a richer or more glowing talent, none seems 
more surely possessed of a little of an ancient 
magic than the one named Margalo Gillmore, a 
fair-haired, sunlit girl who, unheralded and de- 
cently abashed, emerged out of obscurity in our ' 
theater a few seasons ago. When, among the first 
of her adventures, she caught all our eyes as the 
daughter of the famous Mrs. Fair^ those of us who 

\ 41 



42 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

had seen the John Drew plays of the early nineties 
experienced a little twinge of recollection, recall- 
ing the gangling and stringy but marvelously 
sweet girl who, just as shy and just as awkward, 
ventured forth then under the shelter of a cele- 
brated uncle. Now we nodded our heads and 
whispered one to another, "She is like a new Ethel 
Barrymore." 

But what few of us knew (though all of us 
might have guessed) was that she was like Ethel 
Barrymore in another respect. She was like Ethel 
Barrymore in respect to her grandmother. They 
are both children of the theater, each, as a matter 
of fact, born in the fourth generation of a cele- 
brated theatrical family. As Ethel Barrymore is 
the granddaughter of the famous Mrs. John 
Drew, so Margalo Gillmore is the granddaughter 
of the famous Emily Thorne, who was a favorite 
in London in the eighties. We might, I say, have 
guessed as much. Indeed, after watching the exits 
and the entrances of a dozen seasons in New 
York, one is minded, when the young pretenders 
write down from Poughkeepsie and Northampton 
explaining that they will be free for all sorts of 
careers in June and asking how to go on the stage 
• — one is minded, then, to answer in this wise: 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 43 

My dear young lady, 

There are many ways in which you might prepare 
yourself for the theater, but one thing is essential. You 
may do as you think best about selecting an experienced 
actress for your teacher but you must select an experi- 
enced actress for your grandmother. 

Such a reply might be dispiriting in its effect, 
but there is wisdom in it. It says something about 
the theater that is true and significant — something 
which, twenty-five or fifty years ago, would have 
gone without saying, for the theater then was 
still thought of as a world apart, a strange place 
where a black art was practised by a Gipsy folk, 
bred to it, doubtless through generations, though 
of course one did not pretend to know enough 
about such people to say with any certainty. 

Even to the end of the nineteenth century, this 
notion of the theater as a world apart persisted. 
It may be a long while ago that the laws of 
England classified actors along with rogues and 
vagabonds and the churches there forebade them 
burial in consecrated ground. It may be a long 
while ago that the first actresses to venture before 
an English audience — French hussies, they were 
— were hooted and pelted and generally treated 
in a manner so discouraging that it was clear, ac- 
cording to the delighted Puritan diarists of the 



44 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

day, that so unfeminine and offensive an exploit 
would never be repeated. 

But it is not so very long ago that the Church 
of the Transfiguration in New York earned its 
cozy and hospitable name of the Little Church 
Around the Corner when it opened its doors to the 
burial service of an actor after a more haughty 
House of God on near-by Fifth Avenue had de- 
clined the opportunity. And it is not so very long 
ago that many of the more righteous among our 
preachers, when busy in exorcising the evil spirits 
from their communities, were rather given to using 
the word "actress" and the word "harlot" as 
interchangeable terms — both opprobrious. 

It is only recently that this attitude (still vis- 
ible enough, of course, in some quarters) has be- 
gun to take on a slightly archeological aspect. 
Indeed, the pendulum has moved far in the last 
twenty-five years — swinging from the day when 
it was assumed that no decent woman would ap- 
pear on the stage to the vague liberalism of the 
present day, when it is apparently assumed that 
any decent woman can. In such a day, it is worth 
while pointing out that there is no art in which 
the force of heredity seems to play so controlling 
a part. To the young pretenders (by way of giv- 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 45 

ing them pause, perhaps, or at least of instilling 
in them a little decent humility toward the house 
at whose doors they are knocking) it is worth 
while pointing out that the theater has an aris- 
tocracy older and more deeply rooted than that 
which any other activity in American life can 
boast. The banker or the woolen merchant 
or the pedagogue who can say that his father and 
grandfather were bankers or woolen merchants 
or pedagogues before him, feels so great a strength 
and continuity in the fabric of that life that he 
fairly glistens with pride and a sense of well- 
being and security. But compared with the fore- 
most actors of our stage, these tradesmen and 
philosophers are the merest parvenus. 

Of this impression that the talents of the thea- 
ter are husbanded through the years, handed down 
from father to son, from mother to daughter, the 
annals of the American stage furnish repeated 
reminders and reinforcements. Such reminders 
come at odd times and in odd ways. Go into the 
Players' Club, standing there on the south side of 
Gramercy Park, smoky, unpretentious, and (for 
New York) quite thick with memories. There 
they will point out to you with a certain unfath- 
omable satisfaction that the club, in all its years. 



46 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

has had but three presidents. The names of the 
three are written on the walls — Edwin Booth, 
Joseph Jefferson, John Drew. But what they do 
not point out, probably because they think of it 
as a matter of course, is that each of these men, in 
his fleeting eminence, was no nouveau riche of the 
theater but one born in its purple, one trained 
to its speech from the cradle, one bred of show 
folks. 

The name of Booth has been in our playbills 
for more than a century. It is still there. The 
Jeffersons were of even older lineage, and time 
was when a performance of "The Rivals" was 
managed in this country with every role played 
by one or another of the Jefferson clan. And 
Drew, of course, stands midway, the grandson of 
a popular English actor, the son of a superb 
comedienne, the uncle of the three Barrymores. 

I watched his enigmatic smile off and on 
through that uncomfortable evening when two of 
these children of his sister were lending their 
potent name to a spurious play called "Clair de 
Lune," a sleazy and pompous dramatization of 
Hugo's "L'Homme Qui Rit." It worked itself up 
by easy stages to one scabrous scene wherein a 
degenerate duchess made hot love to the hideous 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 47 

cripple with the mangled face, the part played, of 
course, by John Barrymore. That role of the 
duchess seemed the most tempting in all the list of 
characters, and at first one wondered a little why 
Ethel Barrymore had passed it by and taken for 
herself the less palpitant part of the queen. But, 
after the love scene, the reason was clear enough. 
"Ethel could hardly have played the duchess," 
said another actress, acidly. "It would have been 
adding incest to injury." However, that is a 
digression. 

Consider, instead, who did play the duchess. 
The part fell, by this default, to the slender, deft, 
uncanny hands of Violet Kemble-Cooper. Now, 
if it be true than on our great occasions the spirits 
of our forebears gather round us, to brood over us, 
to wish us well, and to watch what, of all they 
knew and handed on, we have remembered and 
kept bright — if that legend be true, what a throng 
of ghosts must have hovered in the wings at the 
Empire that night. For playing opposite to heir- 
apparent of the Drew-Barrymore tradition was a 
young actress of an even more illustrious inheri- 
tance. Maurice Barrymore was there in the wings, 
of course — the handsome Barry who fluttered a 
thousand hearts in the days of the bustle and the 



48 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

redowa and the phaeton. And, of course, there 
was old Mrs. Drew, pounding her disapproval, I 
should think, with the now inaudible cane of Mrs. 
Malaprop. But there, too, was Fanny Kemble 
and John Philip Kemble and a score of other 
memories of Drury Lane and Covent Garden, 
awake in those wings because two heirs of theirs 
were out on the stage before an audience playing 
a love scene. 

In writing of heredity, the word "environment" 
pops up as quickly and as inevitably as does the 
far end of a seesaw when, with firmness and con- 
viction, you but plant yourself on the other. It is 
difficult always to say of any player that he was 
born with his talent, since, just because he was 
born in the theater, he wandered early upon the 
stage and so was bent and shaped to its needs 
while he was young. One does not have to be a 
profound student of the stage to see the tremen- 
dous advantage that is held on it by those who 
begin their work there so early in life that they 
are as unaware of it as of the air they breathe and 
of the sun that warms us all. They are growing 
up in the theater in the precious years when the 
rest of us are outside, not only not learning how 
to act, but, by every experience and precept and 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 49 

taboo of the breakfast table and the sidewalk and 
the schoolyard, are busily learning not to act at 
all. 

Consider for a moment the most beautiful art 
which the theater of our time has known — the in- 
comparable art of Eleanora Duse. Her biographi- 
cal note in "Who's Who in the Theatre" starts off 
with the single, significant line: "Bom of stroll- 
ing players." Are we to find the explanation of 
her art in that fact? Or is there no need to go 
back of the mere fact that she went on the stage 
as a baby — so young that by the time she was 
seven she was experienced enough to take over the 
post of prompter and by the time she was sixteen 
she had had enough training to play the foremost 
roles, enough, at least, to play Juliet in a produc- 
tion at Verona. Sixteen and playing Juliet at 
Verona I The next Vassar girl who writes down 
in April to Mr. Belasco that every one is so good 
as to call her pretty and that they did all admit 
she was perfectly splendid as Tiveenie in "The 
Admirable Crichton" at Prom time and that she is 
only twenty-one and please would he take her 
under his instruction and make a star of her come 
day — such a one might well receive back from 
him just a little engraved card with this legend 



50 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

on it: "When she was sixteen, Duse played 
Juliet at Veronal" 

That biographical note of hers, so rare in its 
bluntness among the more pretentious para- 
graphs which are carefully and sometimes crypti- 
cally edited to adorn such records, might, as a 
matter of fact, be written after most of our best 
names in the theater. Minnie Maddern Fiske, 
E. H. Sothern, Maude Adams — born of showfolks 
all and born while those folks were on tour. That 
was why it was possible for Maude Adams to 
make her first appearance on the stage at the age 
of nine months — her first entrance was on a 
platter — and why, when little Minnie Maddern 
made her New York debut at the age of four, it 
was as an actress who, though the advertisements 
at the time mendaciously announced it as her first 
appearance on any stage, had already played a 
dozen roles in as many towns and simply reeked 
of experience. 

And lest it should seem from this review of the 
generations in respect to our players that it is only 
among them that this inheritance is marked, it 
should be noted that the same tradition can be 
observed at work among the others arts of the 
theater. It is, therefore, worth mentioning par- 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 51 

enthetically that the two best plays written by 
Americans in our time — "The First Year" and 
some one of Eugene O'Neill's — were the work of 
playwrights born of showfolks, the work of 
children of the theater born on tour. And for 
those enthusiasts in matters of decoration, who 
seem to feel that the actors and the playwrights 
are but negligible and rather annoying func- 
tionaries and that the true man of the theater is he 
who dreams its scenes and brings them into being 
m a new beauty of line and light and color, it 
must be noted that their leader, too, was born on 
tour. This Edward Gordon Craig, before whom 
even George Jean Nathan crosses himself in pub- 
lic and who was for so long a mere voice crying in 
the wilderness, not only had an actress for a 
daughter but an actress for a grandmother. It 
was out of the orthodox theater of canvas palaces, 
flat flights of stairs, and no end of grand draperies 
that Craig went out to preach the new gospel. His 
mother, by the way, has also been a good actress. 
Her name is Ellen Terry. 

There is a story in some old showman's memoirs 
of a visit paid back-stage in the late sixties, when 
Tom Davey and Lizzie Maddern managed the 
stock company out in Columbus. The visitor was 



52 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

all for a little idle gossip and sat down for his 
comfort on the nearest costume-hamper which 
had been pushed against the dressing-room wall. 
Whereat Davey roared with alarm and dragged 
him off exclaiming: "Here, don't sit there or 
you '11 be smothering America's future tragedi- 
enne before she has had a chance." And he lifted 
the cover far enough to show that that basket was 
serving as temporary cradle for a red-headed baby 
named Marie Augusta Davey, who was destined, 
in time, to get out of the basket and, after a nec- 
essary and proper interval, to become Mrs. Fiske. 

Such tales as that one have in them the tingle 
of the eternal renewal of the theater, the same 
tingle I felt one hot night in the summer of 1916 
when I was watching some children in a settle- 
ment house on Avenue B, New York, perform 
with tremendous gravity the "Sherwood Forest" 
of Alfred Noyes. The boy who played Robin 
Hood was a striking, swarthy, unexpectedly deep- 
voiced youngster who was later snuffed out in the 
war. The sight of his name in the program had 
a little thrill in it for those of us who were out 
front. It was Richard Mansfield, 2nd. 

So, when, from time to time, I hear a mighty 
sighing in the land over the fact that we have no 



i 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 53 

great players any more, I manage to bear up be- 
cause of my own suspicion that the next Ada 
Rehan is asleep to-night in a costume-hamper in 
some obscure theater. And I think that, after all, 
we might better write to that girl in Poughkeepsie 
something in this wise : 

My dear child : 

Come if you must. You will find your way in the 
theater full of the most heart-breaking discouragements 
and, even if you are not to be driven out of it, it is prob- 
able that the great roles will never come your way. But 
you will have a daughter some day and the way will be 
easier for her. As for your granddaughter — why, she 
may play Juliet in Verona. 



2 

The Swarming Amateurs 

Amateur activity in dramatic work has in the 
last ten or fifteen years increased to a most aston- 
ishing degree. The American theater, still di- 
rected however helplessly from New York, ha^ 
fallen ludicrously behind in its task of keeping 
apace with the expansion of the country and, from 
many a thriving community, has retreated alto- 
gether, leaving the citizens to darkness and the 



54 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

movies. In such places, amateur societies of stag- 
gering ambitiousness have sprung up to satisfy an 
ancient and, for all the Puritan hostility, an in- 
eradicable appetite. 

There has been an entirely new interest in stage 
decoration, so that one can mention cycloramas 
and amber spots without causing bewilderment. 
There has been a great reading and conning of 
new plays. Publishers who, in 1910, would have 
fainted at the mere suggestion that they publish a 
play have since taken to putting out contemporary 
dramatic literature in abundance. The works of 
Eugene O'Neill, for instance, few of which have 
found the professional stages outside New York, 
have, in book form, penetrated to the remotest 
nooks of America, and his name, probably, has 
more meaning in its generation — conveys more, 
that is, to more people — than the incomparably 
more successful Clyde Fitch's did in his. 

It is the same with the aspiring Susan Glaspell. 
Her plays have had only brief and experimental 
production in New York, but they have been pub- 
lished, and the amateurs from Savannah to Se- 
attle have reveled in them. She herself could not 
come anywhere near telling how many perform- 
ances have been given in America of "Suppressed 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR ^^- 

Desires" and "Trifles," for most often, probably, 
no report of such performance is made either to 
her or to her publisher. The old aversion to pay- 
ing royalties is still strong among the amateurs. 
Fairly reputable characters in the community — 
the banker, the pastor, and all — have not yet 
learned to blush at picking a playwright's pocket. 

I suppose "Suppressed Desires" has been played 
oftener in America than any other one-act play. 
I once saw it creditably given by a college dra- 
matic club at commencement time before an 
alumni audience. The performance was amusing 
to watch but not so amusing as the audience. 
That audience, drawn from every State in the 
Union, followed the players with a reminiscent 
glint in the eye and with moving lips. They were 
all sorts and conditions of men and women — 
architects, insurance agents, teachers, and the 
like. Indeed, I think they had only three things 
in common. They all derived directly or indi- 
rectly from this college, they all believed in the 
sanctity of private property, and they all, at one 
time or another, had played in "Suppressed 
Desires." 

It is from such clubs, in and out of the schools 
and colleges, that there have sprung the number 



I 



56 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

of young men and women who think of New 
York chiefly as the city where one can go and 
sort of loiter around the stage-door of the Belasco 
Theater in the chance that the Wizard, on his 
way out to luncheon (hatless and clad, of course, 
in a gray-green artist's smock), will see one, be 
struck instantly by one's dramatic talent, and en- 
gage one forthwith for his next production. 

By definition, an amateur is one who does a 
thing for the love of it, but, naturally enough 
and pardonably, the people of the theater are 
wont to speak of an amateur as one who does 
everything incompetently. They forget that there 
are many players in the Amateur Comedy Club of 
New York who have played more roles in the last 
fifteen years than most of their little brothers of 
the real pear-tree garden. And that some of their 
productions are immeasurably superior in every 
way to the productions of the same pieces made 
outside on Broadway. They forget that the 
Washington Square Players, a group of quasi- 
amateurs, constituted the cocoon from which, after 
several years' hatching, emerged the Theater 
Guild — which was, in two or three seasons, to be 
recognized as the most important theater in the 
English-speaking world. 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 57 

But the Washington Square Players were not 
entirely amateur, and the Amateur Comedy Club 
is a dazzling exception. All in all, the attitude of 
the professional players toward the amateurs is 
best summed up in a raffish story they delight in 
telling on all occasions. It begins with a touching 
picture of an old broken-down tragedian sharing 
a park bench with a bedraggled and unappetizing 
street-walker. "Ah, Madame," says the trage- 
dian, "quelle Ironie! The two oldest professions 
in the world — ruined by amateurs." 



3 

Dr. Gundelfinger 

It is not, however, the amateur actor who af- 
flicts the theater. The amateur at whose activity 
the theater manifests all the symptoms of chills 
and -fever is the amateur playwright. And this, 
I think, is true, that men who would never think 
of attempting a novel or an ode or even a book of 
essays are not one whit abashed at the prospect of 
writing a four-act problem play. 

The number of these unheard dramatic authors 
would exceed your most extravagant estimates. 



58 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

A house-to-house search of the bureau drawers of 
Manhattan's hall bedrooms would, I am sure, 
yield up a hundred thousand disembodied manu- 
scripts. The most unexpected persons carry plays 
concealed about their persons. One indignant old 
English dramatist swears that, once upon a time 
when he was ill, the surgeon called to his bedside 
told him he had only two hours to live and said 
that there would be just time for him to read a 
little comedy which he, the surgeon, had dashed 
off some time before. The fairly reliable Chan- 
ning Pollock swears that a man once brought to 
his New York office the manuscript of a five-act 
melodrama which he had tenderly carried down 
from his home in Rochester. While evasively 
agreeing to read and pass judgment on this work, 
Pollock asked the author why he had not been 
content to send it down by registered mail. "Oh, 
well," was the reply, "it was no bother to bring 
it down. I come down every day. I 'm a conduc- 
tor on the New York Central." I myself, for 
several years, received at regular intervals a sce- 
nario from one man who always offered me 50 per 
cent, of the prospective royalties if I would get 
him a contract for his play's production. These 
scenarios varied wildly in subject-matter and 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 59 

style, but they had this in common — that they 
were all mailed from the same place, the Mattea- 
wan State Hospital for the Insane. 

Louis N. Parker, the author of "Rosemary" 
and "Pomander Walk" and "Disraeli," in a 
privately printed account of some of his more 
painful experiences in the theater, reports on one 
submitted manuscript in the following words: 

It was a five-act tragedy, and with liberal allowance 
for intervals for much-needed refreshment, it would 
have played nearly an hour. The first act represented 
the utterly dark interior of a cavern in the heart of the 
Caucasus. It was, very superfluously, night. There 
was to be deep silence during the first five minutes after 
the curtain had risen. Then a voice, proceeding from 
an unseen speaker at the back of the cavern, began. And 
continued. It gave us an agonizing history of the 
speaker's sufferings. It went on for ten minutes and 
ended, as nearly as I can remember : "And must I, the 
last descendant of the Badenweilers, nursed in all the 
luxury which untold wealth can lavish on its favorite, 
must I perish here, deprived of a loving mother's solici- 
tous attention, in squalor and anguish, with noisome 
nocturnal fowl for companions?" (He groans. Cur- 
tain.) 

I think, all told, that the most unbelievable 
play ever sent to me was one called "The Ice 
Lens: a Four-Act Play on Academic Immoral- 
ities," run off on a press at Sewickley, Pennsyl- 



6o SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

vania, and sent me by its author, George Freder- 
ick Gundelfinger, Ph.D. I should like to quote 
enough from his indignant preface to illustrate the 
extraordinary naivete which is begotten even in 
a doctor of philosophy the moment he has written 
a play. That preface, of course, dealt at length 
with the ignorance and prejudice in the theater 
which had prevented "The Ice Lens" from being 
produced. A few extracts from it follow : 

The theme of The Ice Lens was not created simul- 
taneously with the impulse to develop it. The raw 
material (raw in more sense than one) from which it 
has been constructed was being stowed away in my mind, 
although more or less unconsciously, both during and 
before my efforts on the song-comedy. But when the 
idea of writing a comedy occurred to me, this dormant 
mentality (furnished by several years' residence in a 
college community as undergraduate, graduate student, 
instructor and proctor respectively) awoke with amazing 
alacrity. Hundreds of "little things" I had earlier seen, 
heard and felt involuntarily, were recalled with far more 
vividness. They were woven together into a play in a 
very short time — not so very, very short, if one takes 
into account the nights also, which were, in general, 
sleepless. . . . 

The first two criticisms I received had come from 
persons whom I did not know from Adam. I had not 
shown my copy to a single acquaintance before sub- 
mitting it. It was not that I altogether spurned help 
from the outside, but rather that I wanted to work in 
secrecy. The nature of the play demanded this. When 
you will have become a little more familiar with it, you 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 61 

will understand why I did not seek admonition fronn 
Sonne English professor on the Yale faculty. (I would 
probably have received an extremely different kind from 
the kind I was seeking if I had.) Being absolutely im- 
mune from discouragement and having, in addition, that 
exaggerated sense of individual and independent 
capability which is characteristic of every artist who 
mtist arrive (even though he has got to come half way 
down off his high horse in order to do so), I could not 
immediately agree with the criticisms I had received, 
although later I fully appreciated the fact that they con- 
tained some truth. . . . 

But before sending the punctuated copy of The Ice 
Lens to the press, I decided to make one more appeal to 
the stage — this time not to a producer but to an actress : 
Maude Adams. It occurred to me that Miss Adams 
had done much to further dramatic interests at Yale, and 
I wondered if she might not be willing to help improve 
Yale morally by means of the drama. I must admit 
that I had my doubts as to her ability to fight through 
the role of Jeanette Lyon in the Third Act, even though 
I had seen her play the part of a rooster. However, my 
doubts were unnecessary, for Miss Adams not only never 
read the manuscript but even ignored the letter in which 
I had very politely asked her if she would care to do 
so. . . . 

The Yale Alumni Weekly, by means of which the 
true purpose of the play could have been brought before 
the graduates, declined to review it, to accept a paid 
advertisement, or even to mention it under the author's 
name among the Alumni Notes — a strong and clear proof 
that The Ice Lens was a play with a future. . . . 

Frankly speaking, I myself was beginning to discredit 
the opinion of that earlier critic who said that my work 
did not show "the instinct for plot and situation which 
marks a born playwright," although I shall never refrain 



62 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

from admitting that the original manuscript was crude. 
It is true that certain species of birds build their nests, 
the first as well as the last, with extreme care and choice 
of material, and it is even unexceptionally true that 
the workmanship of all bees can hardly be improved 
upon. Yet we know that, in general, instinct implies 
crudeness, and this is both irrefutably and necessarily 
so in the case of the human artist. Would any intelli- 
gent person expect a born playwright's first product 
to be as perfect as the first nest of a yellow warbler? 
It is not enough to be a born playwright; a playwright 
must acquire intellect in addition to his innate genius. 
Egotistic though it may seem, I am going to claim that 
the original manuscript of The Ice Lens did show dra- 
matic instinct, but I wish to add shamefully in the same 
breath that, despite the fact that I had already acquired 
both a Ph.B. and a Ph.D. at the time, I had not acquired 
one smattering of intellect. A thoroughly intellectual 
person can refer to an event as horrible as the onslaught 
at Chateau-Thierry in such a way as to make us think 
of nothing but an oriole twittering on an apple tree in 
whose dappled shadow a country maiden is powdering 
her young lettuce plants with phosphate of lime. "Fer- 
tilized with the rich blood of the world's best men, a 
new springtime is opening on the world," said President 
Dabney of the University of Cincirmati in a recent 
baccalaureate. I repeat it, that however devoid of this 
intellectual element the situations in The Ice Lens were, 
they were not devoid of the instinct of a born playwright. 
I once heard Margaret Anglin in Zira, and to this day 
when I read the lines of Jeanette Lyon in the Third Act 
of my play, I experience the same emotion by means of 
which Miss Anglin almost lifted me out of my seat. In- 
cidentally, I have yet to hear the college president who 
can lift me out of my seat, although at a recent com- 
mencement in Soldiers' Memorial, Pittsburgh, Pa., I was 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 63 

almost knocked out of my seat by a certain LL.D. (plus 
a D.D.) as he went leaping about the stage not unlike a 
mad dachshund yelping: "Grod damn the German gov- 
ernment!" Would that he had first gone to Miss Anglin 
to get a few pointers on how to move one's audience in a 
less literal sense ! I have often thought of Miss Anglin 
as Jeanette. Not so long ago, without having to wait 
for an answer to a polite letter, I was discourteous enough 
to send her a copy of The Ice Lens by registered mail. 
I received an official receipt from the New York post 
office, but never a word from Zira herself. . . . 



To savor the style of "The Ice Lens" and Pro- 
fessor Gundelfinger's notion of human speech as 
it should take form on the stage, it will suffice to 
quote the opening scene of his play, which unfolds 
in a college fraternity dormitory under a "For 
God, For Country, and For Yale" banner with a 
dialogue between Mrs. Dearborn Hunter and one 
of the students, Chauncey Everit DePeyster. 
Just listen to them : 

Mrs. Hunter [glancing in the direction of the couch']. 
Is n't "it nice to be popular like Miss Jeanette^ All the 
young men swarm about her like bees around the honey- 
suckle. I held the same position in this town when I 
was a girl. The students used to call me la belle 
charmeuse, and many were the sirens I put to mourning 
entirely without effort and absolutely without intention. 
\She sways her fan languidly .] Of course I was some 
diinner then. 

DePeyster [with his usual affectation]. Presumably 



64 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

the picket-fence variety of femininity had not yet intro- 
duced her meager dimensions into the realm of fashion. 

Mrs. Hunter [zvitk a sigh]. Dear me! To be popu- 
lar nowadays, one must be painfully slender; nobody 
loves the fat woman. 

DePeyster. Lament not! There are still some of 
us who take a great fancy to her jolly good nature, find- 
ing ourselves quite indifferent to her corpulent super- 
fluity. 

Mrs. Hunter [zvitk' elation]. Oh, Mr. DePeyster, 
you are very kind ; I do so much appreciate your 
sympathy. 

DePeyster. Forsooth, I see nothing extraordinaire 
in this Miss Lyon. 

Only a glimpse can be afforded here of the 
play's hero, John Templeton^ a student who is 
out to reform the other students, feeling as he does 
that "rectitude is worth more than all of New- 
ton, Vergil and Euclid put together" and eager 
to show his fellow-student that he is "a coarse 
unhuman brute living selfishly and sluggishly on 
the hoard of others, stealing what little it has 
acquired for itself only by cunning and conceal- 
ment, everlastingly consuming weeds, quaffing 
more than its body can hold, and reveling like 
a glutton over human flesh." 

Metcalf. You are enthusiastic ; but how can this 
light be given to the many who need it? 

Templeton. I am trying to shed it by writing a 
play. 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 6^ 

Metcalf. But at the same time, you are exposing 
that which may bring anguish to many an innocent heart 
which is now apparently happy. 

Templeton. Temporary sorrow is the bud which 
blossoms into true happiness. There is no real happiness 
in the deferment of grief. This evil, like the poisonous 
plant in the depths of the forest, will thrive and spread 
until it is brought out into the sunlight of an open 
meadow. However intense the pain, I, seemingly cold- 
hearted, shall cut deep with the knife of truth, bring the 
poison to the surface, and then heal the wound with the 
balm of love. 

Metcalf. Your task requires courage. 

Then, as a parting glimpse of "The Ice Lens," 
you must eavesdrop on the conversation between 
Templeton and Reginald Buckingham Adder^ 
villain of the piece but now reformed. Listen : 

Adder. I cared only for my own happiness and gave 
no thought to the wretched condition of others. I was 
worse than a selfish fool I I was a greedy glutton taking 
more than my fill of beastly pleasures, and, added to all, 
I was an infernal liar. I tried to win deceptively the 
love of an innocent girl, and, when she justly cast me 
off, I insulted her with accusations as false as they were 
vile. 

Templeton. You refer to — 

Adder. Please don't breathe her name. I deny my 
ears the pleasure of hearing it; I forbid my lips the 
honor to speak it. But I am repaid ; God knows I am 
well repaid for it all. My own roommate reports my 
dishonesty to the faculty, and heralds to the public my 
relations with a harlot. My university expels me; my 
body suffers incessant torture from the fearful pain 



66 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

of unsightly diseases ; my friends no longer know me ; 
and worst of all — my own mother, who has never drawn 
me to her heart, disowns me. God help me to forget the 
man she calls her husband; I curse every dollar he has 
thrust into my reckless hand; I no longer care to own 
his name. I long to start anew, for, although I have 
rendered myself unfit for a husband and a father, I can 
still be a man — a man earning a deserved existence by 
his own honest labor. But how — how shall I do it? 
Look at me ; my God ! look at me ! 

Templeton. However black the sky may seem, in 
time the sun will shine ; however wicked our souls ap- 
pear, if we will but wash away the scum, we shall find 
good hidden beneath it. [The famt outlines of distant 
mountain peaks appear in the fog.\ 



In the books of the older critics — Sarcey, Ar- 
cher, and all — there occurs again and again the 
phrase, the obligatory scene. The outlines of one 
are built up as "The Ice Lens" unfolds — the scene 
where John Templeton is taken out by a group of 
his fellow-classmen and spanked. However, one 
reads on and on without ever coming to it. 

The amazing thing about "The Ice Lens" is 
not that the smoldering Gundelfinger should have 
written all this but that he should have written 
it in the form of a play. After all, a play is a 
work of the imagination to be performed by an- 
other on an instrument. That instrument is the 
theater, and this strong American propensity to 



THE KNOCK AT THE STAGE-DOOR 67 

write plays without first having learned a little 
something about the instrument is a trifle too 
reminiscent of the story of the man who, when 
asked if he could play the violin, answered 
grandly: "I don't know. I never tried." 

His difficulty is that a play is a living thing, 
which cannot live while part of it is lifeless. It 
is conceivable that a poem that was, for the most, 
unbelievable rubbish, might still have within it 
a line or two of magical and immortal poetry. 
Long ago some one told me the story of an editor's 
receiving reams of the most incredible metrical 
balderdash from an aspiring poetess who had, 
however, stumbled on one ringing, unforgettable 
line. In the midst of all her grotesque truck, the 
editor found himself staring wide-eyed at this 
single line : 

And the gray owl called to its mate in the wood that a 
man lay dead in the road. 

But such momentary inspiration is lost in the 
collapse of a worthless play. To say of a bad play 
that some of it is pretty good is a little too much 
like saying of an unpleasing egg that at least part 
of it is fresh. 



Ill 

GUNPOWDER PLOTS 

AS a playgoer, I am a little weary of many 
too recurrent phenomena in the American 
theater, but of all things I resent most hotly the 
employment of firearms to unnerve an audience. 
It is such a contemptible subterfuge. Your un- 
scrupulous playwright resorts to it upon the most 
feeble excuses. When in doubt, brandish a re- 
volver : that has been his little motto these many 
seasons. Whenever he feels that a maiden in 
distress, or an ominous shadow cast upon a win- 
dow-blind, or a cry of terror heard off-stage is 
not quite enough to induce the desired agitation 
in the play-going bosom, he points a Colts forty- 
five at that bosom and feels that the drama has 
been rescued again. Draw a gun and you will 
draw an audience. There, apparently, is the 
first precept in that hardy manual, "How to Be a 
Playwright." I wonder. 

I wonder how many playgoers are, as I am, 

68 



GUNPOWDER PLOTS 69 

gun-shy — how many are, as I am, rendered 
dumbly miserable by the notice that a pistol is to 
play one of the leading roles in the piece of the 
evening. The stage revolver, harmless enough in 
itself, is one of the great American nuisances, like 
the ticket speculator and the dialect comedian and 
the forty-two-year-old ingenue. We bear up 
under them. But who likes them? 

The purpose of the pistol in stage-craft is akin 
to the role of the harrow in agriculture, or the 
business of the masseur's fingers before the cold 
cream is applied. It brings the playgoer forward 
to the edge of his seat, induces a mild sweat, and 
leaves him in that state of taut nerves which 
makes him a pitiably easy victim to any sugges- 
tion the author may have in mind. 

I resent this because it is taking a base advan- 
tage. It is too easy. It is like cheating at soli- 
taire. Your true playwright, like Frank Craven, 
is above such mean devices. In his comedy, "The 
First Year," he brews the same suspense, the same 
sweet agony, but he does it with some chivalry. 
He throws the playgoer into a palpitation over 
the question as to whether or not that green wait- 
ress will remember to bring in the melon before 
the soup. Or, as she stands gesturing noncha- 



70 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

lantly with the vegetable dish held in her hand> 
whether that dish will or will not crash against 
the edge of the dining-room table. At that mag- 
nificently suspensive moment in "The First 
Year," I have counted eight women in front of me 
all cowering and putting their fingers to their ears. 
With the peril of that vegetable dish Craven con- 
trives more genuine dramatic agony than do the 
bullying melodramatists with whole arsenals at 
their disposal. 

My favorite playwright is Euripides because 
he wrote ninety pieces for the theater without in- 
troducing a gun in one of them. But, frustrated 
by the fact that it is not every evening one can 
find a piece of his being acted in my town, I then 
go by preference to plays involving the villainy 
of toreadors or to hot romances unfolded against 
Sicilian or Etruscan backgrounds. Even then the 
assurance is not absolute, but the chances are that 
whatever murder is to be attended to during the 
evening will be managed with a knife stuck quietly 
and modestly between the ribs. 

I had hoped that the war would cure me of 
these weak tremors. I remember saying as much 
the night that the Argonne drive began. It was 
two o'clock on that momentous September morn- 



GUNPOWDER PLOTS 71 

ing in 1918, and up the road that led from Souilly 
toward Montfaucon three transported Broadway- 
ites were plodding side by side, a quondam actor 
and two ex-dramatic critics: William Slavens 
McNutt, Arthur Ruhl, and myself. (Ruhl, as I 
recall, wore a shawl). The guns were firing in 
concert from Alsace to the channel — a 400-mile 
row of cannon, all going off at one time, the 
heaviest artillery preparation the world had ever 
heard. I had been spending a considerable por- 
tion of the preceding three months under the guns 
and had soon become so used to them that I could 
sleep placidly away, just as one gets used to a 
flat near the Sixth Avenue Elevated or to a berth 
on the New York Central. And even to this mon- 
strous redoubling of the ructions, this continuous 
blast at which the very earth twitched and trem- 
bled like a sleeping setter with a nightmare, we 
became accustomed, and by daylight were talking 
through it as though it had not been there. 

And I remember agreeing with Ruhl that at 
least the war would do one thing for us. The 
world might remain a somewhat precarious place 
for democracy, but we could reasonably expect to 
attend an American crook play without going 
through all the old pangs of the gun-shy. At one 



72 SHOUTS AND MUftMURS 

silly little revolver thrust suddenly into the sus- 
pense of the scene, we should merely yawn and 
wonder where to sup after the play. 

In my first week back home I went guilelessly 
to "The Follies." There was an interlude, in- 
tended, I understand, to be extremely comic, in 
which that fine comedian, Bert Williams, had to 
sit in front of a shooting-gallery target (like a 
large black son of a latter-day Tell) and suffer 
the expert marksman to pick off the bulbs which 
formed an aureole for his woolly head. Williams 
was supposed to turn as white as possible and 
tremble with fear. He did. So did I. But he 
was acting. The war had been fought in vain. 

Small wonder, then, if I find myself hoping in 
each scene that a temporary derangement of the 
property-man will have loaded the revolver with 
something worse than blanks, and that an actor 
or so will be mowed down before my eyes. This 
uncalculated thrill has not yet happened, but I 
suppose we all keep on going to the theater in the 
hope that some day it will. 

Failing that sweet revenge, we can distil some 
comfort when the gun play goes wrong in less 
sensational ways. I wish I had been there on that 
great occasion they tell about when the gun fired 



GUNPOWDER PLOTS 73 

at Simon Legree did not go off. Click-click^ and 
not a sound. Legree^ with fine presence of mind, 
pressed a hand to his breast, cast his eyes upward, 
cried out weakly, "Curses, that old heart trouble 
come back again," and fell dead. 

And then one night there was the gleam of a 
silver lining in the cloud that overhung that mad 
English melodrama, "Bulldog Drummond." 
The exceptionally heavy villain was supposed to 
gain gratified possession of the shiny revolver and 
fire point-blank at the dauntless bosom of A. E. 
Matthews as Drummond. There was to be no 
report. Matthews was to smile and say contemp- 
tuously, "My good man, I would scarcely have 
let you amuse yourself with that toy had I not 
known it was unloaded." (Business of looking 
thwarted on the part of the heavy.) Only, on this 
one night, the aforesaid heavy picked up the 
wrong revolver. He fired twice. Both shots 
sprayed the heroic waistcoat with powder. Of 
course that did not hurt Matthews himself any, 
but it did considerably impair the force of the 
line just ahead. So Matthews looked contemptu- 
ously at the fellow, murmured, "You're a damned 
bad shot, my good man," and sauntered off amid 
the audible appreciation of a much-amused audi- 



74 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

ence. Afterward, the heavy actor challenged him 
in the wings. "If that unfortunate contretemps 
should occur again," he said, "I trust you will not 
indulge yourself in that wretched jest. It seems, 
if I may say so, in questionable taste. It made 
me look such a fool." 

But these satisfactions are rare. I am tired of 
gun play on the stage. I am tired of many things 
on the stage. The following items in the theater, 
for instance, all weary me a little: 

1. Revivals of "Twelfth Night" in which the 
Viola is played by a matron of forty-six years. 

2. English comedies in which, just before the 
final curtain, the tall muscular hero announces 
his intention of leaving next morning for the 
Straits Settlements or Burma and "escape from it 
all," thus causing the pallid heroine to rush into 
his arms. 

3. French comedies in which the translator's 
notion of simple idiomatic speech might be judged 
from this sample: "It is not necessary that you 
go, is it not, Mussoor*?" 

4. American comedies of sentiment in which 
the peculations of the young bank clerk and the 
indiscretions of the heroine are all purged by the 
device of adjourning the play to a rural setting 



...,..^. 



GUNPOWDER PLOTS yj 

and playing the final moments against a green 
canvas meadow. 

5. Touching scenes acted on the assumption 
that no mother embraces her progeny without 
rolling her eyes tearfully to the chandelier. 

6. Plays in which any one of the following 
lines occurs more than eight times: 

How many lumps'? 

There must be some mistake. 

You here? 

You mean? 

I was never more serious in my life. 

I do not know why I am telling all this to you. 

Won't you sit down"? 

But I am most tired of being threatened with a 
pistol-shot. The next time a second act begins 
with a frowning broker entering the richly car- 
peted library, walking across to the massive, 
carved walnut desk, opening the desk drawer, 
taking out a bright revolver, examining it, nod- 
ding with grim satisfaction, putting it back, clos- 
ing the drawer softly, and ringing for the butler — 
the next time that happens, I shall reach for my 
hat and quietly leave the theater. I shall drive 
immediately to the Pennsylvania Station, take a 
train for Washington, and call next morning on 
the secretary of state. Dispassionately but firmly, 



76 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

I shall tell him that at the next international 
conference on disarmament at which the United 
States is represented, he must take up seriously 
the question of disarming the drama. That is, if 
he wants me to go on reviewing plays. 



IV 
CAPSULE CRITICISM 

THERE is a popular notion that a dramatic 
criticism, to be worthy of the name, must be 
an article of at least one thousand words, mostly 
polysyllables and all devoted — perfectly devoted 
— to the grave discussion of some play as written 
and performed. To this notion, it must be sadly 
admitted, each generation of writers on the thea- 
ter have lent some color. 

In such an article it is presumed that there will 
be one judicious use of the word "adequate" and 
one resort to the expression "treading the boards" ; 
also at least one regretful shaking of the head over 
the hopeless inferiority of the performance in 
question to (a) the way it was done in some other 
country two years before or (b) the way it would 
have been done in the critic's own country thirty 
years ago. Such ingredients are expected with 
reasonable confidence. But one thing is certain. 
The piece, to be real dramatic criticism, can 
scarcely be briefer than a thousand words. 

77 



78 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

The tradition of prolixity and the dullness in all 
such writing is as old as Aristotle and as lasting as 
William Archer. A man who will talk gaily of a 
play will yet feel a certain solemnity wetting down 
his spirits the moment he finds himself called 
upon to discuss it in print. Even Mr. Dickens, 
who could take his beloved theater lightly 
enough when he was weaving it into a novel and 
who always packed his letters full of the most 
engaging accounts of the farces and melodramas 
he was seeing, became rigid with self-importance 
and chill with scrupulosity the moment he knew 
he was reviewing a piece for publication. If he 
had undertaken to supply such comment to ''The 
Examiner" or to our own "Atlantic," a voice 
within him seemed to whisper, "Remember, now, 
you're a dramatic critic." And, lo! he was no 
more Dickensy than the merest penny-a-liner. 
This was true to some extent of Walt Whitman 
and certainly was true of Edgar Allen Poe. (The 
strangest people, it will be observed, have put in 
some time as dramatic critics; such people, for 
instance, as Eugene Field and Richard Harding 
Davis and Edward Bok and Elihu Root). Prob- 
ably they were all verbose. 

Yet I suspect it could be demonstrated that the 



CAPSULE CRITICISM 79 

most telling of all dramatic criticisms have found 
expression in less than fifty words. Also that 
the best of all were never written at all. To 
substantiate this, I have been raking my memory 
for the ones that have lodged there while longer 
and more majestical utterances have faded out of 
mind as completely as though they had never been 
written. 

What we are looking for, of course, is the 
happy sentence that speaks volumes. As an ex- 
ample, consider the familiar problem presented by 
the players who can do everything on the stage 
except act. I have in mind a still celebrated 
beauty to whom that beauty opened wide the 
stage-door full thirty years ago. Since then she 
has devoted herself most painstakingly to justi- 
fying her admission. She has keen intelligence 
and great industry. She has learned every trick 
of voice and gesture that can be taught. She has 
acquired everything except some substitute for 
the- inborn gift. Something to that effect, ex- 
pressed, of course, as considerately as possible, 
ought, it seems to me, to be a part of any report 
on her spasmodic reappearances. 

It usually takes about five hundred words. 
Yet Mr. Cohan managed it pretty well in a single 



8o SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

sentence when he was passing on a similar case in 
one of his own companies. An attempt was made 
to argue with him that the veteran actor under re- 
view was a good fellow and all that. "He's a 
fine fellow, all right," Cohan assented amiably 
enough, and then added, with murderous good- 
humor, "There 's really only one thing I 've got 
against him. He 's stage-struck." 

You see, often the perfection of these capsule 
criticisms are achieved by mere bluntness — are 
arrived at by the no more ingenious process than 
that of speaking out in meeting. I was struck 
with that on the melancholy occasion when John 
and Ethel Barrymore lent a momentary and de- 
lusive glamour to a piece called "Clair de Lune" 
by Michael Strange, the exquisitely beautiful 
poetess whom Mr. Barrymore had just married. 
By the time its third act had unfolded before 
the pained eyes of its first audience, there was 
probably not a single person in that audience who 
was not thinking that, with all the good plays ly- 
ing voiceless on the shelf, Michael Strange's sham- 
bling and laboriously macabre piece would 
scarcely have been produced had it not been for 
the somewhat irrelevant circumstance of her hav- 
ing married Mr. Barrymore, the surest meansj 



CAPSULE CRITICISM 81 

apparently, of engaging his priceless services for 
one's drama. Now, some such opinion, I say, was 
buzzing in every first-night head. All the critics 
thought just that. Yet they all described nervous 
circles around this central idea, dancing skittishly 
about it as though it had been a May-pole. Full 
of what Gladys Unger was once inspired to call 
"a dirty delicacy," reluctant, perhaps, to acknowl- 
edge the personal equation in criticism, and 
weighed down, probably, by an ancient respect 
for the marriage tie, they avoided all audible spec- 
ulation as to why Mr. Barrymore had put the 
piece on at all. All, that is, except one. Mr. 
Whittaker of "The Chicago Tribune" — the same 
Mr. Whittaker, by the way, who married the fair 
Ina Claire — cheerfully put the prevailing thought 
into three devastating words. He entitled his 
review: "For the Love of Mike." 

That is not the only time I have seen the very 
essence and spirit of a review distilled in a single 
head-line. It happened on the occasion when the 
late Sir Herbert Tree, ever and always recogniz- 
able behind the most ornate make-ups, ever and 
always himself through all faint-hearted efforts 
at disguise, appeared for the first time in London 
in "The Merchant of Venice." It was on that 



82 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

occasion that his more illustrious brother, Max 
Beerbohm, then merely the dramatic critic of 
"The Saturday Review," went back-stage to felic- 
itate the star but was overlooked in the crush of 
notables who were crowding around. When Tree 
chided him afterwards for unfraternal neglect. 
Max murmured: "Ah, I was there but you did 
not know me in your beard." Of course Max 
could not write the review of his own brother's 
performance — a task delegated, therefore, to John 
Palmer, whose comment on the play was awaited, 
naturally enough, with considerable interest. 
Palmer wrote a polite, though mildly derisive, 
review of the production and entitled it: "Shy- 
lock as Mr. Tree." 

I find that the crispest reviews which come back 
in this effort at memory have taken many forms. 
For instance, when it was quite the leading Ameri- 
can sin to attend the agitating performances of 
"Sapho" by Olga Nethersole, Franklin P. Adams 
made his comment in one quatrain : 

I love litde Olga, 

Her plays are so warm. 
And if I don't see them 

They '11 do me no harm. 

The late Charles Frohman, on the other hand, 
was likely to sum up plays most felicitously in 



CAPSULE CRITICISM 83 

telegrams. Once, when he was producing an 
English comedy at his cherished Empire Theater 
in New York, he received just after the premiere 
a cable of eager, though decently nervous, inquiry 
from the author in London, who could not bear to 
wait until the reviews and the box-ofRce state- 
ments reached him. "How 's it going*?" was the 
inquiry. Frohman cabled back: "It's gone." 

Of course, many of the best capsule criticisms 
are classics. There was Warren's tart comment 
on Joe Jefferson's performance as Bob Acres in 
"The Rivals," a brilliant feat of comedic genius 
made out of whole cloth, so little origin did it 
have in the role as originally written. "Ha!" 
quoth Warren, "Sheridan twenty miles away." 
And there was the feline stroke usually ascribed 
to Wilde — the one which said that Tree's Hamlet 
was funny without being vulgar. And there was 
the much-quoted knifing of still another Hamlet 
by an unidentified bandit who said, after the 
performance, that it would have been a fine time 
to settle the great controversy as to who wrote the 
play: one need merely have watched beside the 
graves of Shakespere and Bacon to see which one 
turned over. 

Fairly familiar, also, are two ascribed by tra- 
dition to Eugene Field, in the days when he was 



84 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

dramatic critic of "The Denver Post" and used 
to go to the once-famous Tabor Grand to see 
"Modjesky ez Cameel," the days when the peak 
of the season for him was marked by the engage- 
ment of a vagrant, red-headed soubrette named 
Minnie Maddern. Of one performance of "Ham- 
let" there, Field's entire review consisted of two 
short melancholy sentences. He wrote: "So- 
and-so played Hamlet last night at the Tabor 
Grand. He played it till one o'clock." And it 
was Field who haunted the declining years of 
Creston Clarke with his review of that actor's 
Lear. Clarke, a journeying nephew of Edwin 
Booth, passed through Denver and gave there a 
singularly unimpressive and unregal performance 
in that towering tragedy. Field could n't bear it 
and iinally vented his emotions in one sentence. 
Said he: "Mr. Clarke played the King all 
evening as though under constant fear that some 
one else was about to play the Ace." 

Of course some beautiful capsule criticisms are 
doomed to a lesser fame because it is so difficult 
to detach them from their circumstances and their 
context. This is true, for instance, of several 
deft summaries by Heywood Broun. When some 
years ago one Butler Davenport put on a juve- 



CAPSULE CRITICISM 85 

nilely obscene little play at his own little theater 
in New York, Broun scowled and wrote, "Some 
one should spank young Mr. Davenport and take 
away his piece of chalk." Then there was the 
hilarious episode which grew out of the produc- 
tion for one afternoon in the spring of 1917 of 
Wedekind's "Friihlingserwachen," which Broun 
translated as "The Spring Offensive." In his 
little piece on the subject, he mentioned casually 
that to his mind an actor named Stein gave in 
the leading role the worst performance he had 
ever seen on any stage. Stein sued for damages, 
but the court decided, after some diverting testi- 
mony, that after all a critic was free to express 
his esthetic judgment, however incompetent, or 
however painful it might prove to the subject. 
Later it became Mr. Broun's embarrassing duty to 
review another performance by the same aggrieved 
Stein in another play. Broun evaded the duty 
until the last sentence, where he could have been 
found murmuring, "Mr. Stein was not up to his 
standard." 

I am inclined to think, however, that the best 
of the tabloid reviews have been oral. Coleridge's 
famous comment on Kean's Hamlet — that seeing 
it was like reading Shakspere by flashes of light- 



86 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

ning — was said by him but written by somebody 
else, wasn't it'? Certainly the two best of my 
day were oral criticisms. One was whispered in 
my ear by a comely young actress named Tallulah 
Bankhead, who was sitting incredulous before a 
deliberate and intentional revival of Maeter- 
linck's "Aglavaine and Selysette," a monstrous 
piece of perfumed posturing, meaning exactly 
nothing. Two gifted young actresses and a con- 
siderable bit of scenery were involved, and much 
pretentious rumbling of voice and wafting of 
gesture had gone into the enterprise. Miss Bank- 
head, fearful, apparently, lest she be struck dead 
for impiety, became desperate enough to whisper, 
"There is less in this than meets the eye." 

The other was tossed off by that delightful 
companion and variegated actor, Beerbohm Tree. 
Hurrying from California to New York, he joined 
at the eleventh hour the already elaborated re- 
hearsals of "Henry VIII," into which he was to 
step in the familiar scarlet of Wolsey. He was 
expected to survey whatever had been accom- 
plished by his delegates and pass judgment. He 
approved cheerfully enough of everything until 
he came to the collection of damsels that had 
been dragged into the theater as ladies in waiting 



CAPSULE CRITICISM 87 

to the queen. He looked at them in pained and 
prolonged dissatisfaction and then said what we 
have all wanted to say of the extra-women in 
nearly every throne-room and ball-room and 
school-room scene since the theater began. 
"Ladies," said Tree, peering at them plaintively 
through his monocle, "just a little more virginity, 
if you don't mind." 



FOR THE KIDDIES 

AFTER many bitter experiences in the thea- 
ters of New York at holiday-time, I feel I 
should warn all playgoers, and especially all 
parents, nurses, governesses, and aunts, against 
any performance especially advertised as intended 
for children. When the playbill further an- 
nounces that in addition to presenting something 
meant for "the kiddies," the management intends 
to give the proceeds to this or that suffering char- 
ity, you are hereby cautioned to reach for your 
hat and run as though the devil were after you. 

Too often a benefit performance is merely an 
outlet for somebody's exhibition complex, and 
when that is coupled with a little of the insuffer- 
able condescension which some adults persist in 
showing toward the uncorrupted, the mere spec- 
tator is in for a harrowing spectacle. I have sat 
in Christmas week through the most kittenish of 
recitals by Kitty Cheatham, surrounded by rows 

and rows of suffering innocents. I have seen a 

88 



FOR THE KIDDIES 89 

group of well-meaning grown-ups take "Alice in 
Wonderland" and utterly spoil it for a whole 
theaterful of small boys and girls who had never 
done anything to them. I have seen Charles 
Dickens's immortal "Christmas Carol" done into 
a marionette show, so involved and so indistinct 
that only those who had read the tale often 
enough to know it by heart could have had the 
faintest notion of what it was all about or the least 
equipment for being anything more than intensely 
annoyed. At each of these benign festivals, I 
know that the children in their hearts were wish- 
ing they could escape to the nearest Chaplin pic- 
ture down the street, where, as a matter of fact, 
they would have found a thousand times more art, 
a thousand times more beauty, a thousand times 
more truth. 

When, in the name of Charles Dickens, of all 
persons, a monster benefit was held in London 
early in 1922 for the endowment of a Children's 
Library, the blessed committee in charge wrote to 
Shaw for his benediction and had their noses 
bitten off with the following retort : 

I am obliged to make an iron rule not to give my 
name to bodies that I do not actually work on. But 
I am good for a couple of guineas if the committee will 



90 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

assure me that the library will not consist of what are 
called children's books. Dickens took care to point out 
that he read Smollett and Fielding and all the other 
grown-up books he could lay his hands on (as I did 
myself), and that any harm that was in them did not 
exist for him. If the library is to be in the hands of 
people who ban "The Arabian Nights" as immoral and 
"Roderick Random" as improper, it will be fraud to 
Tise the name of Dickens to get money for it. I should 
say that the first condition of a children's library is that 
there should be no children's books in it. 



To which I say, "Amen." Shaw was saying 
what had been long in my heart and which welled 
up most irrepressibly one afternoon not long ago 
when the few free hours of the Little Theater's 
stage were preempted by an arty and somewhat 
insipid revival of "The Winter's Tale," which 
was tagged in a singularly forbidding description 
as "the first synthetic production in New York." 
The proceeds were dedicated to the New York 
Kindergarten Association and the program fur- 
ther asserted that the production had been "or- 
ganized by a group of parents and others inter- 
ested in the establishment of a theater for young 
people." Under the spell of this sort of drum- 
beating, considerable numbers of youngsters at- 
tended, marshaled by resolute governesses. The 
spectacle of their confinement could be fittingly 



FOR THE KIDDIES 91 

described only by the Mark Twain who wrote the 
harrowing Sunday-school chapter in "Tom Saw- 
yer." The performance provoked in the adult 
passer-by a variety of emotions, including won- 
der and cynical amusement, and stirred up a few 
reflections on Shakspere and benefits and labels, 
and what not. 

For some reason it brought suddenly back to 
mind the occasion when the desire to produce a 
play — any play — ^burned unquenchably within a 
group of sophomoric bosoms in Hamilton College. 
There being at the time no dramatic society on 
the campus, it was necessary to form one, and 
there having been not the slightest trace of popu- 
lar demand for such an enterprise, its promoters 
felt a trifle apprehensive. Two unwelcome con- 
tingencies suggested themselves as on the cards for 
the premiere. The rival classes might throw 
things, or — which was a prospect almost equally 
dismaying — they might not even attend. After 
due reflection on these possibilities, the wily pro- 
moters announced that the entire profits of the 
venture would be poured into the empty exchequer 
of one of the athletic teams and thus, in one su- 
perb gesture, they justified their scheme and 
gagged their critics. 



^2 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

This memory, in turn, brought up with it out 
of the more recent past an utterly irrelevant story 
of a production that was never made at all. Ac- 
cording to the tale, which may or may not be true, 
a Broadway manager decided to test the values of 
a problematical manuscript by projecting it for 
one matinee performance that could be handily 
managed by one of his companies then playing an 
established success in a city not more than a thou- 
sand miles from Unadilla Forks, New York. The 
proceeds were to go to a local charity and the 
actors were, therefore, requested to play without 
any other compensation than the heart-warming 
consciousness of doing good — good to the poor, 
that is, not to the manager. Quite crudely at this 
point the Actors' Equity raised the question 
whether the local charity had asked for the per- 
formance, or whether the performance, needing 
at once an audience and an excuse, had asked for 
the charity. It seemed that the latter was the 
case, whereupon the players insisted perversely on 
being paid for their work. So the performance 
was never held. The tale may or may not be 
true. Perhaps it is only one of those stories which 
get around somehow. 

In the case of "The Winter's Tale" we are 



aL 



FOR THE KIDDIES 93 

informed and believe that Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell 
Armfield put it on by invitation. We could even 
believe that, though reluctant, they were per- 
suaded to produce it because of a burning convic- 
tion that there should be more funds in the treas- 
ury of the New York Kindergarten Association. 
But, because of the spurious element in so many 
so-called benefits, it is hereby suggested that it 
would have been better — and that in all such 
cases it would be better — to have the announce- 
ments and the programs answer specifically in be- 
half of the public the question raised by the Ac- 
tors' Equity Association in behalf of the players. 
Such specification would have been peculiarly 
suitable in this instance because of the suspicion 
which the performance itself was bound to beget 
in the mind of the crafty playgoer. He was cer- 
tain to wonder why any charity in need of funds 
should lean on so broken a reed as an arrestingly 
incompetent production of one of Shakspere's 
less popular comedies. Becoming suspicious, he 
would then wonder why on earth any one honestly 
interested in promoting a theater for youngsters 
should have found appropriate for the purpose a 
production of this play about marital jealousy, 
trial for adultery, and what not, a production, 



94 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

moreover, from which some one had squeezed or 
washed almost all the joy and color and vitality. 

There is a good deal of nonesense aired from 
time to time in behalf of a theater for children. 
Such an institution, while requiring considerable 
endowment, is entirely a possibility. It is not a 
crying need, because every season brings many 
plays to town which are entirely suitable for play- 
goers in pinafores and knickerbockers, infinitely 
more suitable, for instance, than "The Winter's 
Tale," even when censored and cut to the quick as 
this one was. Effort could more frugally be spent 
in arranging daytime performances of such plays, 
as did the Drama League with "Abraham Lin- 
coln" last season. Or by circularizing apprehen- 
sive parents with weekly advices as to the moral 
state of the current bills. Perhaps the advisory 
board could even undertake the burden of pur- 
chasing seats, though this last suggestion is reluc- 
tantly set down by one who thinks all young folks 
should begin their play-going careers in the gal- 
lery and move downstairs by easy stages with ad- 
vancing years. Presenting a youngster with two 
aisle seats in the orchestra is like arranging for 
him to enter college as a senior. He will lose 
something in the process. 

The only respect in which this "Winter's Tale" 



FOR THE KIDDIES 95) 

seemed peculiarly adapted to the young was its 
cabbage-leaf aspect caused by a cutting and re- 
arrangement of the text so ruthless as almost en- 
tirely to delete that decent interval which Shaks- 
pere provided to allow for the birth of Perdita. 
The term "synthetic" used in describing the pro- 
duction doubtless referred to some effort to har- 
monize all the colors, movements, lights, and 
tones with the mood of each scene. The only per- 
ceptible result of such effort was in the pictures of 
pleasing composition into which the players were 
forever falling, somewhat in the manner of 
kaleidoscopic fragments falling into patterns. 
The concentration on this phase of the synthesis 
was so fierce that there was seemingly no time to 
develop the acting values of the play or to find 
and train voices for an appreciative utterance of 
its beautiful text. 

If a note of exasperation has crept into this 
report, it must come from a certain weariness at 
the frequent spectacle of the Shakspere and Ibsen 
plays being manhandled up our side streets in a 
manner to which no one would dream of subject- 
ing the dramas of Samuel Shipman, for instance. 
The weariness increases when the wiseacres deduce 
from the results that the public does not want to 
see Shakspere and Ibsen. 



VI 
BITTER MEMORIES 

THEATRICAL managers to the contrary not- 
withstanding, the hardy and tireless scouts 
who do reconnaissance work at first nights for the 
purpose of reporting back to the main body of the 
theater-going public are usually reviled in the 
morning mail, not for their captiousness, but 
rather for their too genial tolerance, their too 
rosy spectacles. It is preposterous propaganda 
which suggests that these good scouts are a sour- 
visaged lot, who maintain a ghoulish (or at best 
an impassive) death-watch over all the new plays 
that come to town. As a matter of fact, they are 
the incorrigibly hopeful part of every first audi- 
ence, pathetically eager to believe that something 
fine and memorable is about to be discovered in 
the next act. 

One of the most distinguished, gracious, and 
charming of their number has been pictured by an 

impertinent young cartoonist as standing forlorn 

96 



BITTER MEMORIES 97 

in a festive foyer and murmuring: "I 'm afraid 
it's a hit I" But the fellow was just spoofing. 
Unbridled enthusiasm, incredible elasticity, and 
tumultuous overpraise are the distinguishing 
marks of the whole platoon. The dramatic critics 
of New York, ranging, as they do, from the late 
twenties to the early eighties and extraordinarily 
varied in their origins, education, intelligence, and 
personal beauty, are alike in one respect. They 
are all be-trousered Pollyannas. 

The Pollyanna note can be traced here and 
there to timidity or indolence, with an occasional 
faint aroma of corruption, but for the most part 
the explanation is simpler and less discreditable. 
If your professional playgoer seems to think that 
a fair farce is good and a good melodrama superb, 
it is probably because only he knows how bad a 
play can be. He grows delirious about the best 
in the theater because he alone knows the worst. 

A protesting note in the morning mail, so fre- 
quent that it is almost a form letter, is wont to 
read as follows: 



How could you have said that "The Yellow Stenog- 
rapher" was a pretty good comedy? I went last night, 
after reading your notice, and thought it the worst show 
I had ever seen. 



98 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

To which one of two replies naturally springs 
to mind, either "Ah, then, you never saw 'The 
Phantom Legion*" or "Why, you lucky stiff!'* 
After all, the playgoer who bides his time and, 
on the recommendation of the neighbors and the 
faintly remembered newspaper accounts, goes only 
to a dozen of the best things given in the course of 
a season, is inevitably more exacting and more 
critical than the chronic first-nighter, whose every 
play is a pig in a poke. No one could help enjoy- 
ing "The Dover Road," but they enjoy it most 
who remember "The Survival of the Fittest." 
Considered all alone^ "Jane Clegg," the Ervine 
comedy at the Garrick, seemed a creditable 
achievement. Compared with some of the other 
plays about unfaithful husbands which the same 
year witnessed, it seemed a breath-taking master- 
piece. 

In the spring of the year, when it is customary 
for the dramatic pages to break out in a rash of 
summaries of the season, with solemnly compiled 
lists of the Ten Best Plays of the Year, it might 
be more profitable to pause and consider what 
have been the Ten Worst Plays. By reason of 
themselves, or their performance, or both, I se- 
lected these for the season of 1919-20: 



BITTER MEMORIES 99 

''Katy's Kisses." 

The Poe playlets. 

"Polypheme." 

"First Is Last." 

'The Phantom Legion." 

"The Red Dawn." 

"The Unknown Woman." 

"Three 's a Crowd." 

"George Washington." 

"The Blue Flame." 

It was, as I look back on it, a fair list, although 
it is possible that a plebiscite would have substi- 
tuted "Carnival" or "Curiosity" or "Where 's 
Your Wife*?" But, you argue, you never even 
heard of most of these. Which only goes to show 
how little you realize why the boiling-point of 
the dramatic critic's enthusiasm is so low. 

Take those Poe playlets, for instance. They 
were given for a run of one performance at the 
Little Theater. There were two of them. The 
first, called "Bon Bon," consisted largely of clas- 
sical recitative, with the tedium relieved by quaint 
mispronunciations. The other was called 
"Lenore" — carefully pronounced Leonore. The 
title evidently referred to Poe's girl-wife, for that 
is what she was called on this occasion. The ris- 



loo SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

ing curtain disclosed the Poes standing mid-stage 
somewhat in the postures associated with clothing 
dummies. 

PoE [dismally]. "Blackwood's" has refused "The 
Gold-bug." 

'Le'soke [in ecstasy]. Never mind, Edgar. I love thee 
and some day thou wilt be recognized as a great poet. 
Meanwhile, couldst thou not cheer my grief and suffering 
by reciting some of thy beautiful songs? 

PoE [brightening visibly]. How would you like to 
hear "The Bells"? 

Lenore [happily]. Yes, yes, dear Edgar, recite "The 
Bells." 

After this much introduction, which is set down 
by a faulty memory and pretends to give only the 
general impression of the text, Poe recited. The 
effort surpassed anything of its kind ever heard 
upon a high school platform. The very word 
"tintinabulation" became an oration in itself — 
an oration with gestures. Then Mrs. Poe died. 
The audience was not taken by surprise. It was 
not feeling any too well, either. A final scene, 
given after some portion of the house had de- 
parted with a bold pretense of thinking it all over, 
revealed Poe in moonlit solitude, reciting — 
you 've guessed it — "The Raven." That melan- 
choly creature was discovered atop the bust, where 
a shirt-sleeved arm could occasionally be descried 



BITTER MEMORIES loi 

manipulating it. The croak of "Nevermore," 
however, seemed to come from beneath the stage 
and seemed less the utterance of a prophetic bird 
than the protest of the proverbially audible Bull 
of Bashan. 

American audiences are never violent and sel- 
dom even decently resentful, like those that boo 
and whistle in London and Paris when their 
sensibilities are outraged. This one was unusually 
meek and mild. Of the fifty persons present 
nearly all stayed to the end and then left quietly 
— even the old gentleman who had sat through- 
out with his head bowed on the seat-back in front 
of him. Perhaps, in this connection, it should 
be further explained that the two plays, together 
with the long intermission that separated them, 
lasted less than an hour. 

Or consider "Pol5'pheme." This metrical 
French version of the Cyclops legend was pre- 
sented at the Lenox Theater by Carlo Liten and 
Yvonne Garrick. A sparse audience waited until 
nine o'clock, when a well-nourished and en- 
thusiastic Frenchman came before the curtain and 
gave vent to a half-hour causerie on the life of 
Albert Semain, the previously obscure author of 
"Polypheme. He told how he felt when he first 



102 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

met Semain, how Semain felt next, how Semain 
felt when he was n't elected to the Academy, how 
he would have felt if he had been, etc. 

Then the play began, revealing the chubby 
and winsome Mademoiselle Garrick, clad in a pas- 
toral and wreathed bit of white muslin, and 
Monsieur Liten (who is somewhat of Walter 
Hampden's proportions), dressed in a simple, un- 
pretentious loin-cloth. The play lasted a little 
more than half an hour. The abandon of its per- 
formance was somewhat restricted by the size of 
the Lenox stage, which made it difficult for Poly- 
pheme to leap about much or even to gesture pas- 
sionately without uprooting the trees and gen- 
erally agitating the landscape. 

The big moment came when the sea giant dis- 
covered the girl and a shepherd boy (who wore 
an expensive fur rug) lying together on a mossy 
bank, a sweetly Arcadian picture. Behind them 
Folypheme made moan. His distress could be 
heard for blocks, but not, apparently, by the bliss- 
ful causes thereof. It is true that every now and 
again the girl would sit up and murmur "Hark, 
hark I" or something French to that effect, but al- 
ways her shepherd lover would say: " 'T is 
naught, my sweet," and the mutual endearments 



BITTER MEMORIES 103 

would be resumed. Finally the boy departed 
(presumably to tend his flocks) and the despon- 
dent Folypheme withdrew to the wings, put out 
his one eye, roared with pain, came back, made 
gestures of love and despair over the prostrate 
girl (who had dropped down on another bank 
for quarante winks), and walked off into the 
ocean. All this was accompanied by harp strains 
from the wings. It seems incredible now, but 
unless memory has played us false the music se- 
lected was Handel's "Largo." 

Another play followed. Your correspondent 
will say nothing about it. He did not see it. 
He had withdrawn to the sidewalk, ostensibly for 
a smoke, and once outside had fled into the night. 

The accounts of these two premieres may sug- 
gest what hazards the scouts encounter in your 
service. Scouts^ The figure is inadequate. The 
dramatic critics are like the slaves of old who, in 
the brave days when everybody dressed as though 
for a Maxfield Parrish drawing and secret poison 
was likely to be discovered in the most innocent 
and succulent dish, were employed to taste those 
dishes first. If they lived, the masters then sat 
down to the feast. If they died, it did n't matter, 
matter, matter. 



VII 
THE TERRIBLE TRANSLATION 

ANY peaceful, unoffending playgoer who 
folds himself seized by some daily or weekly 
and sent off to the theater with instructions to 
review a play can escape unobserved if he will 
follow a few simple rules of conduct. If, for in- 
stance, the piece deals with the upper ten, he need 
only say that the society folk on the stage seemed 
more like longshoremen and washladies out on a 
clam-bake. If the play be an imported one, he 
can shake his head sadly over the sorry contrast 
between the pitiable American production and the 
performance of the same play given the preced- 
ing April at the Kleines Kunsttheater in Prague. 
He may not have seen that original performance, 
but neither will any of his readers, and so there 
will be no argument. And if the piece is a trans- 
lation from the French, he himself need know 
no more than just enough French to keep the 
harber from putting brilliantine on his hair in 

order to shudder fastidiously over the deplorable 

104 



THE TERRIBLE TRANSLATION 105 

translation. For in the cases of nineteen out of 
twenty French plays produced in New York in a 
single season, he will be standing on indisputable 
ground. 

The translators usually engaged by American 
producers for such work are either men who can- 
not read French or who cannot write English, 
They achieve either a weird jargon that is half 
Harlem and half Montparnasse or they turn all 
the speeches into an Ollendorff idiom the like 
of which never found voice on land or sea. The 
heroines of such hybrids are given either to re- 
marks like this: "Cheese it ! Voila le policeman !" 
or to remarks like this : "Is it not that it is neces- 
sary that the aunt of my friend assist'?" My own 
discomforts at such productions have ranged all 
the way from the paltry jingles into which Gran- 
ville Barker turned the lovely verse of Guitry's 
"Deburau" to the quaint adaptation of "Les 
Noces d'Argent," which was credited at the time 
to Grace George. In it one important scene re- 
volved around a coveted sideboard, which, be- 
cause it had been referred to in the French text 
as a commode^ was docilely and grotesquely called 
a commode in West Forty-eighth Street. 

Against such absurdities, it is well, probably, 



io6 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

that we should all mutiny from time to time, but 
it must be admitted that the Broadwayites who 
turn French plays into American are adroit, 
facile, brilliant philologists compared with the 
translators who turn English plays into French 
or who flavor a Parisian text with an occasional 
dizzy flight into English. There have been, of 
course, several classic disasters achieved in the 
process, including the feat of the translator who 
pondered over the phrase, "so woebegone," in 
"Henry IV" and finally wrote, "Ainsi^ douleur^ 
vdfen^'' and the version of Gibber's "Love's Last 
Shift," which appeared on the boulevards under 
the title, "La Derniere Chemise de 1' Amour." 

But to suggest that such slightly imperfect mas- 
tery of English is still characteristic of the French 
author, let me call attention to the text of "My 
Love — Mon Amour," a neat comedy by the cele- 
brated Tristan Bernard, which appeared in Paris 
early in 1922. In it the young heiress, around 
whom the four acts turned and twisted, was dis- 
covered giving English lessons in a remote French 
village on the coast. She was in the midst of one 
of these when along came an English tourist, and 
the glibness with which she was able to converse 
with him quite graveled the listening French. I 






THE TERRIBLE TRANSLATION 107 

quote their very words as they appeared in the 
"L'lllustration" text. 

Said the Englishman: ''Excuse me. I can't 
speak French. I want ask for the way to Villers- 
Bocage? I shall return to the inn of Villers- 
Bocage because I leaved my spectacles in my 
room. Do you believe if I am able to buy spec- 
tacles in this city^" To which the fair Jeanne 
replied, in English every bit as good as his, "It 
is very easy, sir. You can find spectacles in the 
Station Street near." To which, naturally enough, 
he made answer: 'Thank's, miss. Good bye sir! 
Very obliged." This was all so charming that 
one was quite delighted when, a little later, the 
Englishman reappeared and said : "I did not find 
any spectacles in the shop that you indicate me. 
Is there another optician in Avranches*?" "Oh, 
sir," replied one of the young students of Eng- 
lish, "I think there is any other." The English- 
man seemed doubtful. 'There are no many com- 
modities in Avranches," he said. "It is really a 
little hote." That, of course, was absurd. The 
Frenchman replied warmly: "Avranches, sir, is 
the most jolly town of the coast. It 's an ideal 
place, and all the happiness of the world is in 
Avranches I" Which elicited from the English- 



io8 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

man this parting shot: "I am going to visit it 
again but until now I am not at all of your 
advice." 

And so on and so on. But if you really want 
to read English as she is wrote in the French the- 
ater, consider this lovely fragment which came to 
me in a circular from the little Treteau Fortuny, 
where they were playing "Mrs. Warren's Profes- 
sion" when I was passing through Paris not long 
ago: 

LADY AND GENTLEMAN 

We have learned with great pleasure your arrival in 
Paris and we welcome you. 

We know that you are of that intellectual foreign elite 
that is, to be found in that worldly circle to which you 
belong so you will frequent the "TRETEAU 
FORTUNY" a new theatre of Art where the literary 
works of the whole world are performed. 

We have decided to introduce into France Bernard 
Shaw the great Irish and dramatic author and we are 
sure that you will approve our idea. 

We know that the new and audacious attempts have 
your approbation and that our realisations will have all 
your favor. 

You will mix up with the fashionable "Tout Paris" 
and complete it, you will clap the great Suzanne Despres 
and the splendid Troap of the "Treteau Fortuny" in the 
"Profession de Madame Warren." 

Bernard Shaw's fine play and you will contribute to 
our success by your presence. 



..JL' 



THE TERRIBLE TRANSLATION 109 

We know that you will wish to be among the first 
who interest themselves in forward literary movement. 

Incidentally, the folder from which the fore- 
going gem was culled contained on its face the 
following lure: "On showing this ticket to the 
Control, the best seats will be given you without 
any increase in price," which handsome offer does 
suggest that the French, while still a little in- 
different to the niceties of the English language, 
have picked up a notion or two of American busi- 
ness methods. 



VIII 
ANOTHER FOREIGN AUTHOR 

THERE is a whole department of American 
dramatic criticism, as spoken in the uni- 
versities and as written in the sedater journals, 
which is given over to a continuous lament over 
the present-day neglect of Shakspere. The tone 
of this lament is querulous, as though the imper- 
fections of the contemporary Shaksperian per- 
formances and the uncertainty of Shaksperian 
production as a commercial investment were di- 
rectly traceable either to an incorrigible triviality 
in the American theater or to a certain essential 
baseness in its players and its playgoers. This 
is nonsense. As a matter of fact, everything of 
courage and invention and aspiration that has 
been contributed to the English-speaking theater 
in the last twenty-five years has tended to lead 
the players and their public away from Shakspere. 
It is the best and not the worst in that theater 
which has come between him and the new play- 
goers of the twentieth century. Now, as never 

no 



ANOTHER FOREIGN AUTHOR in 

before, the difficulties which beset him in the 
theater are genuine and deep-rooted. In our time 
something has happened which has lent a real 
meaning to the phrase of a nonchalant Broad- 
wayite who recently spoke of Shakspere as "an- 
other foreign author." 

To arrive at this not necessarily dispiriting con- 
clusion, you turn your attention not merely to 
Shakspere but to the audience itself. This has 
no reference, of course, to the precious crew which 
fills half the theater on nearly every New York 
first night under the pleasant delusion that it rep- 
resents America, and can say thumbs up or down 
on each new play that passes by. Nor does it 
refer to the good people scattered over the country 
who go to the play once every three years. Leave 
out of consideration such special audiences, wist- 
fully hungry for culture, as the roving outdoor 
companies may assemble from the summer schools 
and the multitudinous Chautauquas. Leave out 
of consideration all those who take their Shaks- 
pere scrupulously, attending because they think 
they ought, and not for the beauty and splendor 
and fun there is in him. Take, rather, the great 
body of playgoers that are neither precious nor 
unappreciative ; folks who read Edna Ferber and 



112 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Zona Gale, who admire Margaret Anglin and are 
not to be sneezed at ; folks who attend the theater 
often enough to have some mental habit of play- 
going, who have had their taste in drama formed 
in our theater during the last twenty-five years, 
and more particularly during the present century. 
What of them? For it is to them we must look 
if Shakspere is to flourish on the stage — and not 
merely, to his horror, in the library — in this, the 
fourth century since his death. 

And between these people and his plays there 
has come a great gap, a breach that has widened 
rapidly in the last fifteen years. Merely to say 
that he has been dead three centuries is inade- 
quately to express the idea. He had been dead 
nearly that long a quarter of a century ago; since 
then the span has doubled, trebled. Since then 
has come what may be called the modern drama, 
a complete, far-reaching revolution in dramatic 
art, the taking up of a new form and a new man- 
ner, the setting up of a new aim and a new ideal. 
The years in the theater since 1890 are long just 
as the nineteenth century was long in the history 
of civilization, change, achievement — far longer, 
the new historians relish pointing out, than the 
paleolithic age, say, which in mere time extended 



ANOTHER FOREIGN AUTHOR 113 

rather longer than a hundred years. How radical 
has been this change you realize better when you 
consider that plays written in the sixties and 
seventies are more nearly contemporary with 
Shakspere than "The Madras House," that in- 
complete work of genius which is more exasperat- 
ingly characteristic of its time than any play writ- 
ten in our day in the English language. And the 
best plays of to-day differ from Shakspere as 
sharply as his own differed from the deathless 
tragedies which were written on the shores of the 
iiEgean when all the world was young. 

Inevitably the presentation of poetic drama in 
the age of the naturalistic play encounters diffi- 
culties akin to those which beset acting in the old 
Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Playgoers 
there may remember that in the days when a loose 
little band of stars was valiantly and somewhat 
melodramatically fighting the theatrical syndi- 
cate, that spacious barn was the only auditorium 
open to them. The ordinarily dimensioned stage 
properties would snuggle to the rear of the im- 
mense stage, and then between the place where 
castle or garden stopped and the place where the 
orchestra began there intervened a yawning apron, 
a disheartening expanse across which the players 



114 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

— in the argot of their profession — ^had to "put" 
the play. Mr. Hackett yelled through "The 
Crisis." Miss Crosman must needs roar as Rosa- 
lind^ and the great Mrs. Fiske — fancy it — Mrs. 
Fiske was obliged to reveal previously unsus- 
pected lung power. This difficulty was not in- 
superable. It could be overcome, but the gap was 
there. And so it is now in the relations between 
Shakspere and a present-day audience in our coun- 
try. An unmistakable, though not necessarily 
permanent, separation has taken place that simply 
must be reckoned with in terms of illusion and 
response. The gap is not insuperable, but it is 
there. It is a commonplace of dramatic criticism 
that the actor of our time has not been trained to 
give Shakspere. Any dramatic critic over the 
age of three can say that, and, in fact, does say 
it whenever he is out of copy. What is equally 
true, and rather more a matter of concern, is that 
the audience has not been trained to take 
Shakspere. 

The audiences have been trained away from 
Shakspere, not by the machinations of base man- 
agers impressed with evidence more recent than 
Chatterton's old cry that "Shakspere spells ruin," 
but by the finest and most brilliant work done in 



ANOTHER FOREIGN AUTHOR 115: 

the modern theater. They have been trained away 
by the playwrights, producers, and players of the 
naturalistic school, the men and women who try 
to represent their own day realistically, to put on 
the stage an action that has the form and color 
and sound, the authentic gesture and accent, of 
every-day life. Rebellion has reared its head in 
Germany. Atypical playwrights have spoken elo- 
quently there and in Ireland and in Belgium, but 
the naturalistic school is none the less the deter- 
mining force in the theater to-day. It may not 
be to-morrow, but that is another story. 

The naturalistic school works quietly and with 
the fewest possible trappings. It speaks prose, 
and there is no poetry in it. It is the irony of 
fate that the Shakspere tercentenary should have 
come around in a generation that could regard 
"The Old Wives' Tale" as its greatest English 
novel and in a year whereof the best poetry was 
much too much like the "Spoon River An- 
thology." The naturalistic school is typified in 
its conventions — chiefly the fourth-wall conven- 
tion — those methods of procedure by which a pro- 
duced play is conditioned, the terms of tacit agree- 
ment between playwright and playgoer which are 
in his mind and yours before ever the curtain rises. 



ii6 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

"Let 's pretend," he says as he puts pen to paper, 
and "Let 's pretend" you say as you sidle to your 
seat. That is always the agreement between you, 
but the terms differ in different generations. Now 
you go into the theater assenting to the assump- 
tion that the fourth wall of a room has been with- 
drawn and that you are but an eavesdropper, 
made comfortable. Unconsciously, that is your 
habit. Hence all the occasion for bursts of dis- 
satisfaction with the photographic, stenographic 
drama of the day. Hence the infinite detail of 
some of the earlier Belasco realism, with its sug- 
gestion that all he needed was a good, big moving- 
van. Hence the quiet, suppressed playing and 
all the subnormal acting that sneaks in under the 
fine name of restraint. Hence the actress who has 
occasionally been known to turn her back to the 
footlights and whisper her sentiments to the grati- 
fied back-drop in the fervor of her devotion to the 
missing fourth wall and its implicit denial of the 
audience's very existence. 

And in all this there is no place for Juliet talk- 
ing to the moon and Hamlet talking into space. 
There is no place for the majesty of blank verse 
and the lavish outpouring of sheer word music, 
no place for pageantry and impassioned mono- 



ANOTHER FOREIGN AUTHOR 117 

logue. It is only in the freemasonry that exists 
between children and Barrie that Peter Pan can 
call across the footlights. The aside, like the 
soliloquy and the incidental music, is gone. It is 
gone not because it broke a rule, but because it 
broke the illusion. 

And Shakspere is difficult for one of our audi- 
ences because if you would go along with him 
at all you must go on quite different terms. It is 
all a matter of the audience's habitual predisposi- 
tion, and there has never been a time since the 
days of Burbage and the old Globe Theater when 
the mental habits — not necessarily bad habits, 
mind you — of the playgoer offered such resistance 
to Shakspere as they do to-day. 

All this is no reflection of scholastic criticism. 
The fourth-wall convention has had its most 
potent effect on those who have never heard of it; 
it has conditioned the illusion even for the most 
remote and most naive, the son, perhaps, of that 
splendid, if somewhat disconcertingly responsive, 
playgoer who assaulted Arm and at the op'ry house 
in Denver when he went to see "Modjesky ez 
Cameel." The theater-goers of Utica, Akron, 
Des Moines, and points west are not so passion- 
ately devoted to the great Norwegian that they 



ii8 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

cannot see what a good fellow our Will Shakspere 
was. Nonsense. Ibsen has never had any direct 
influence on playgoers in English-speaking coun- 
tries, but the great pioneer always reaches the 
lesser fellows of his craft. Not only Shaw and 
Galsworthy, but the most shameless little pot- 
boilers on Broadway write their pieces under cir- 
cumstances Ibsen helped mightily to create. And 
thus accustomed, the average American pay-as- 
you-enter play-going audience now goes to the 
theater in a frame of mind that is radically dif- 
ferent because Mr. Ibsen wrote. It is that frame 
of mind with which the plays of Shakspere must 
contend. 

So ijiuch for the audience. What of the actor? 
There is the oft-repeated lament that in these 
days there are no actors to play Shakspere even 
if your thrifty producers could be persuaded to 
give his plays and the public nourished a secret 
passion to see them on the stage. But it is really 
understating the case to say that the twentieth 
century actor of the English-speaking stage has 
not been trained to play Shakspere when the 
whole point is that he has been trained not to. 
By the stuff of which the present-day plays are 
made, by the implicit directions of the lines he 



ANOTHER FOREIGN AUTHOR 119 

speaks, by the atmosphere the best of the pro- 
ducers give to the plays they stage, by the stand- 
ards that reputations set, and by your own ap- 
plause and sympathy, he is trained to prose and 
to soft speech and to a quiet, homely, every-day 
naturalness that would ill comport with the 
superb verse, the magnificent declamations, the 
splendid trappings of the plays of Shakspere. 

"The eavesdropping convention," gloomily ob- 
serves Henry Arthur Jones, "is developing a 
school of admirable realistic actors, who can 
render with extreme nicety all those subtleties of 
the drawing-room and the street which are scarcely 
worth rendering." 

It seems probable that in the French Revolu- 
tion many a simple, kindly, generous, socially- 
minded aristocrat perished on the guillotine. Cer- 
tainly when the men of the theater rose against 
all the hollow and spurious romance of the nine- 
teenth century they made it hard thereafter for 
true romance to get a hearing. They have left the 
theater one-sided, one-toned, limited, a little 
monotonous, and it is only a partial consolation 
to remember that while we see little now of 
Booth's Shaksperian repertoire, we see nothing 
at all of his "Richelieu." In the same way some- 



120 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

thing of eloquence was killed in the war on 
grandiloquence and tall talking. Certainly when 
the swaggering, ranting actor, with all his sound 
and fury, went slinking out, there was discour- 
aged S(Mnething of the personal magnificence, the 
individual grandeur which is needed to fill the 
amaranthine robes of Othello and make the Thane 
of Glamis live. 

You see, all the forces of the modern stage have 
been mercilessly dedicated to the repression of the 
actor. A will tell you — he will even write an 
essay about it from time to time — that this is the 
age of the great playwright and, therefore, in the 
cycle in which such forces move, no age for the 
great player. B — "wretched, meritorious B" — 
will prove to you that the incandescent lamp has 
done it all, that with electricity it is natural so 
to diffuse the light that the spot-light no longer 
hallows a single player at the expense of his fel- 
lows. It was an incorrigible greenroom wag who 
sent to another American star a marked wooden 
fragment of the now dismantled Wallack's so that 
he might forever keep and indulge his passion for 
the center of the stage. But, after all, not many 
of our players do; there are few left concerning 
whom this exquisite humor would have any point. 



ANOTHER FOREIGN AUTHOR 121 

C comments on A and B by accounting for every- 
thing in the terms of the collapse of repertory. 
But they are all trying to explain the same thing, 
the dwindling of the player's stature, the new un- 
pretentiousness which, for the great heroic roles, 
ill transmits the glory that was Rehan and the 
grandeur that was Booth. All this was in the 
mind of the writer in "The London Times" who, 
when a great actress made her exit not long ago, 
said: "You feel that something of Shakspere's 
secret died with Ada Rehan." 

Of the fifteen Shakesperian plays these recent 
years have brought to town there were only two 
great performances — Forbes-Robertson's Hamlet 
and John Barrymore's Gloster — and but three ex- 
amples of Shakspere as a producer's contribution, 
leading off with the Barker production of "Mid- 
summer Night's Dream," an eccentric presenta- 
tion marked by the bewildering speed with which 
the players poured forth the incredibly abundant 
music of the text. 

The simple folk out front, groundlings and 
gentry alike, said it was lovely and all that, but 
that they could n't understand a word that was 
said. "Gabbling" was the term used by the testier 
London reviewers when the same experiment was 



122 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

tried on them, and Brother Barker, who had al- 
ready raised his lament on the abandoned stand- 
ard of beauty in the English language, on the 
falling off in the musical utterance of verse, re- 
sponded chidingly: 

'T call in question the evidence of mere police- 
men critics. I question a little their expertness 
of hearing, a little, too, their quickness of under- 
standing Elizabethan English not at its easiest" 
— in other words, the loveliest Elizabethan poetry 
spoken by players untrained to speak it for the 
ears of men and women untrained to hear it. 

And there you have it — or part of it. It is this 
and something more. Poetry comes strange from 
lips and to ears attuned to the most matter-of- 
fact prose. "Yes, I know, that is so." The 
dramas of rhetoric, fashioned for the platform, 
adjust themselves but awkwardly to the picture- 
frame stage of our time. "Very true, so they do." 
And naturally in an average audience of to-day 
there reappears the spiritual descendant of one 
who found the first Lear dull ("he 's for a jig or 
a tale of bawdry or he sleeps"), the successor to 
silly Mr. Pepys, who found the "Dream" at the 
King's Theater "the most insipid, ridiculous play" 
he had ever seen. 



ANOTHER FOREIGN AUTHOR 123 

But these are all only contributory elements 
in the decline of Shakspere in terms of easy 
illusion, the spell of make-believe a great play 
can weave — and must weave — in the hearts of 
those to whom its story is unfolded. Every audi- 
dence in the history of the theater, from the Athe- 
nians, who reveled in Euripides at the Temple 
of Dionysus, the mixed crew that jostled happily 
in the yard at the first theater in the parish of 
Shoreditch, the Londoners who sat rapt at Drury 
Lane before the at least archeologically weird 
sisters in mittens, ruffs, and red stomachers who 
hovered over Garrick's caldron, down to the de- 
voted army that besieges the box-office whenever 
the great Mr. Cohan writes a piece — all have gone 
to the play eager to pretend, hungry for reality, 
even the most calloused bringing to his seat rem- 
nants of that perfect faith the child gives in the 
nursery to the stirring story of Cinderella or 
Snow-white, to the pathetic incident of Mother 
Hubbard. They must recognize humanity in the 
story unfolded on the stage. They want to weep 
with the tragedy, laugh with the comedy, glow 
with the romance. They want to believe; they 
want to enjoy themselves in the theater. And the 
cheapest modem play, however hollow and spuri- 



124 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

ous at heart, has at least the outward look and 
sound of every-day life which makes easy the 
pretense. Every development in the modern the- 
ater, not only in the drama, but in the structure 
of the buildings and the mechanism of the world 
behind the scenes, gives aid to the will and power 
to pretend. The imagination is subvened in the 
playhouse to-day. It has been pampered and 
Shakspere is a strain upon it. There is the heart 
of the matter. 



sffl 



IX 



THE CELEBRATED DECLINE OF THE 
DRAMA 

THE most persistently recurrent phenomenon 
of the theater is the old playgoer who in- 
sists that the theater is in a state of decay. Just 
as George Jean Nathan, of "The Smart Set" and 
Budapest, is wont to admire any play produced 
at a spot sufficiently remote in geography to 
satisfy his craving for mere distance, so that twin 
spirit of his, the late William Winter, gave over 
his declining years to a fond admiration of any 
play produced in America so long before that no 
one could argue with him about it. Winter is 
gone, but others have rushed to catch up the torch 
as it fell from his hands. Indeed, the great Pro- 
fessor Copeland of Harvard tells me that he him- 
self is the only old man extant who does not see 
a subsidence in the level of theatrical perform- 
ance. 

Says Brander Matthews of Morningside 
125 



126 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Heights, in his wafer-thin volume of essays on 
acting : 

When Colley Cibber asked Congreve why he did not 
write another comedy the old wit retorted promptly, 
"But where are your actors?" And Colley Cibber was 
one of a group of actors and actresses as brilliant and 
as accomplished as ever graced the stage in Great Britain. 
Sir Philip Sidney almost wept over the pitiful condition 
of the English drama, just before Shakespeare came for- 
ward with his swift succession of masterpieces. If we go 
back many centuries to Greece, we find Aristophanes 
lamenting the decay of dramatic literature as evidenced 
in the plays of Euripides. And when Thespis first started 
out with his cart — the earliest recorded attempt of any 
star-actor to go on the road with his own company — 
we may be certain that there were not lacking veteran 
playgoers who promptly foresaw the speedy decline of 
the drama. 

Yes, and when George Henry Lewes, who, in 
addition to living in sin with George Eliot, wrote 
the best dramatic criticism which appeared in 
England in the fifties and sixties of the last cen- 
tury, lamented at so much a word the decay of 
the theater since his youth, he was looking fondly 
back to the very day when Dickens was sketching 
into "Nicholas Nickleby" the hasty but still 
recognizable portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Curdle 
who, in the thirties, used to infiltrate all discus- 
sion of the theater with their antiphonal chant: 
*The Drama is gone, perfectly gone." 



CELEBRATED DECLINE OF DRAMA 127 

Even so comparatively youthful a commenta- 
tor as Arthur Homblow, editor of "The Theatre 
Magazine," has wound up his fine, fat, two-vol- 
umed history of the American stage with a like 
note of melancholy — a melancholy he is able to 
maintain only by confining himself rigorously to 
a chronicle of acting, and pretending, for the sake 
of his argument, that the men who write the plays 
and the artists who adorn the stage are negligible 
factors in the scheme of the theater. Only by 
sedulously forgetting all about the Eugene 
O'Neills and the Robert Edmond Joneses of the 
present-day theater in America is it possible to 
exercise the cherished privilege of shedding tears 
over that theater's decline. 

It is a sufficient commentary on the whole mass 
of elegiac poppycock that if a publisher were to 
issue an honestly compiled volume of the ten best 
American plays he would have to take ten written 
in the twentieth century. Certainly if he went 
back into the mauve dawn before 1880, he would 
come upon pieces now interesting only as relics. 
The most interesting one of all is "Fashion," Mrs. 
Mowatt's comedy of manners, which was pre- 
sented to an astonished New York in 1845. It 
is interesting because it was the first American play 



128 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

written by a woman, because it struck out along^ 
the path which the American playwrights have 
followed pretty steadily down through the Hoyt 
and Cohan farces to that happiest example of 
them all, "The First Year." It is also interest- 
ing because it was the first American play to leap 
the Atlantic to London, And because it was the 
first to express clearly that abiding conviction of 
the American playwright; viz., that all city- 
dwellers reek with sin, that the inhabitants of 
towns not over 10,000 are comparatively virtuous 
and that any one who lives in the middle of a ten- 
acre lot is as pure as the driven snow. Indeed, I 
am sure it was in "Fashion" that the scornful 
phrase "that city chap" made its first appearance 
on any stage. I have been unable to discover 
at what point in its history it acquired the addi- 
tional words: "He ain't done right by our Nell." 
"Fashion" was first presented at the old Park 
Theater three years before that celebrated play- 
house burned to the ground. The comedy laughs 
at the parvenu Americans, much as Martin 
Chuzzlewit laughed at them. A Mrs. Tiffanyy 
who once made up flashy hats and caps behind a 
little mahogany-colored counter in Canal Street 
and whose husband began his fortune as a ped- 



CELEBRATED DECLINE OF DRAMA 129 

dler, emerges grandly as a New York hostess with 
a jenny-says-quoi about her and with some really 
very foreign exotics in her conservatory. Her 
efforts to marry her daughter to an ex-cook and 
valet posing in New York as a count are thwarted 
at last, partly by the intervention of good, old 
Adam Trueman from Cattaraugus County, who 
utters such fine, old, Man from Home sentiments 
that, in the event of a revival, it would be the 
least William Hodge and George M. Cohan could 
do to attend each performance and applaud him 
frantically. Even the sight of the darky footman 
in flaming livery afflicts him. "To make men 
wear the badge of servitude in a free land — that 's 
the fashion, is it?" You should hear him describe 
the despoiler of his daughter. "My heart misgave 
me the instant I laid eyes upon him — for he was 
a city chap, and not overfond of the truth." And 
you should hear his closing speech : 

When justice is found only among lawyers — health 
among physicians — and patriotism among politicians, 
then may you say that there is no nobility where there 
are not titles! But we have Kings, Princes, and Nobles 
in abundance — of Nature's stamp, if not of Fashion's 
— we have honest men, warm hearted and brave, and we 
have women — gentle, fair, and true — to whom no title 
could add nobility. 



130 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

This was the role which in later productions 
E. L. Davenport was to play both here and 
abroad, while Gertrude^ the walking lady heroine, 
was occasionally assumed, with reluctance and 
disdain, by Mrs. Mowatt herself. For shortly after 
the first performance of the play she went on the 
stage and won there her greatest celebrity. No 
doubt it was partly because of this circumstance 
that "Fashion" found a hearing in all the prin- 
cipal cities of the country, as well as in London, 
where she was hailed as "the most interesting of 
young tragedians, the most ladylike of genteel 
comedians," and in Dublin, where she lived to 
hear the gallery gods roar down adoring saluta- 
tions to her and where, you may be sure, the re- 
publican sentiments of honest Trueman were ap- 
plauded to the echo. All this you may glean from 
her own ever-readable book, "The Autobiography 
of an Actress," within whose pages you learn to 
know and admire a woman who, in a hundred 
different ways, recalls that most charming heroine 
in English fiction — 'Elizabeth Bennet. 

When Mrs. Mowatt died she was fondly and 
widely known on both sides of the Atlantic, but 
when "Fashion" was produced she was a woman 
of twenty-four who had written a little verse and 



CELEBRATED DECLINE OF DRAMA 131 

prose and given some public readings. Few knew 
the frail, beautiful, auburn-haired young woman 
who watched that performance from a box and 
who could not be dragged to the stage even on 
the night set aside for her benefit. 

Indeed, she had some cause for trepidation. 
She had ventured on the comedy, she tells us, at 
the suggestion, and perhaps with the assistance, 
of one E. S. (possibly Epes Sargent), who had 
proposed it as a "fresh channel for the sarcastic 
ebullitions" with which she was constantly in- 
dulging her friends and who was himself the 
author of a now-forgotten tragedy called 
"Velasco.'* Certainly it was Epes Sargent who 
wrote the prologue for the first performance. The 
now all but vanished Puritan prejudice against 
the stage, the fear that any play coming from an 
American might be considered a presumption, and 
the redoubled fear because that American was a 
woman — all these trepidations appeared in that 
prologue, which was spoken by a gentleman who 
entered reading a newspaper. Here it is: 

" 'Fashion, a Comedy,^ I '11 go ; but stay — 
Now I read further, 't is a native play ! 
Bah ! Homemade calicoes are well enough. 
But homemade dramas must be stupid stuff. 



132 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Had it the London stamp, 'twould do — but then 
For plays we lack the manners and the men!" 

Thus speaks one critic. Here another's creed: — 

"'Fashion/' What's here? (Reads.) It never can 

succeed ! 
What! from a woman's pen? It takes a man 
To write a comedy — no woman can." 

Well, Sir, and what say you, and why that frown? 
His eyes uproUed, he lays the paper down : — 
"Here, take," he says, "the unclean thing away! 
'T is tainted with the notice of a play !" 

But, Sir ! — but, gentlemen ! — you. Sir, who think 
No comedy can flow from native ink, — 
Are we such perfect monsters, or such dull. 
That wit no traits for ridicule can cull? 
Have we no foibles here to be redressed ? 
No vices gibbeted ? no crimes confessed ? 
"But then a female hand can't lay the lash on!" 
How know you that. Sir, when the theme is FASHION ? 

And now, come forth, thou man of sanctity ! 
How shall I venture a reply to thee ? 
The stage — what is it, though beneath thy ban, 
But a daguerreotype of life and man? 
Arraign poor human nature if you will, 
But let the DRAMA have her mission still; 
Let her, with honest purpose, still reflect 
The faults which keen-eyed Satire may detect. 
For there be men who fear not an hereafter, 
Yet tremble at the hell of public laughter ! 

Friends, from these scoffers we appeal to you! 
Condemn the false but, O, applaud the true. 
Grant that some wit may grow on native soil, 
And Art's fair fabric rise from woman's toil. 
While we exhibit but to reprehend 
The social vices, 't is for you to mend ! 



CELEBRATED DECLINE OF DRAMA 133 

The Puritan prejudice is little more than a 
memory and the native dramatist is no longer 
abashed, but — "What I from a woman's pen'?" 
— that surprise still lingers, and, if we are to be- 
lieve Fanny Kemble, always will. 

If "Fashion" seems archaic to us all to-day, 
it also seemed archaic in some respects to at least 
one of those who attended its triumphant pre- 
miere in the early spring of 1845. That was Poe, 
who, in the busiest and most fruitful year of his 
literary life, managed to devote a good many 
hours to Mrs. Mowatt's comedy and came to know 
the glow of having some of his suggestions incor- 
porated in the production. Writing in "The 
Broadway Journal" for April 5 — "Fashion" was 
produced early in the career of that short-lived 
periodical and the Park was but a step from its 
now obliterated offices in Beekman Street — Poe 
began: 

So deeply have we felt interested in the question of 
"Fashion's" success or failure that we have been to see 
it every night since its first production ; making careful 
note of its merits and defects as they were more and 
more distinctly developed in the gradually perfected 
representation of the play. 

As to that success or failure, there was little 
doubt about it. The play was mounted in what 



134 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

then seemed a lavish style, and in his first review 
Poe, who must have known his Vincent Crummies 
even if he did not know his David Belasco, voiced 
this prediction: 

"We are really ashamed to record our delib- 
erate opinion that if 'Fashion' succeed at all (and 
we think, upon the whole, that it will) it will owe 
the greater portion of its success to the very car- 
pets, the very ottomans, the very chandeliers, and 
the very conservatories that gained so decided a 
popularity for that most inane and utterly despi- 
cable of all modern comedies — the 'London Assur- 
ance' of Boucicault." But a year later, in a paper 
in "Godey's Lady's Book," he was inclined to 
think that "much of this success itself is referable 
to the interest felt in her [Mrs. Mowatt] as a 
beautiful woman and an authoress." 

But it was the lack of any evidences of a fresh 
start in the gradually quickening American drama 
that depressed and exasperated the critic of "The 
Broadway Journal." 

"We presume," he said, "that not even the 
author of a plot such as this would be disposed 
to claim for it anything on the score of originality 
or invention. Had it, indeed, been designed as 
a burlesque upon the arrant conventionality of 



CELEBRATED DECLINE OF DRAMA 135 

stage incidents in general we should have re- 
garded it as a palpable hit. It will no longer do 
to copy, even with absolute accuracy, the whole 
tone of even so ingenious and spirited a thing as 
the 'School for Scandal.' It was comparatively 
good in its day, but it would be positively bad at 
the present day, and imitations of it are inad- 
missible at any day." 

How great would have been his pain and sur- 
prise could he have foreseen that the imitative 
"Fashion" would itself become the immediate 
forerunner and model for many and many a play 
and that it would recur under the name "Fixing 
Sister" as late in the history of American drama 
as the year of grace 1916. How greater still 
would have been his anguish could he have known 
that not for more than half a century would the 
playwrights learn to drop the asides and solilo- 
quies which even then offended him sorely. For 
his reflections on those finally discarded conven- 
tions were cast as long ago as 1845 in his review 
of "Fashion." Even then he denounced as ab- 
surd "the rectangular crossings and recrossings 
of the dramatis personae on the stage ; the coming 
forward to the footlights when anything of inter- 
est is to be told ; the reading of private letters in 



136 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

a loud rhetorical tone ; the preposterous soliloquiz- 
ing; and the even more preposterous 'asides.' 
Will our playwrights never learn, through the 
dictates of common sense, that an audience under 
no circumstances can or will be brought to con- 
ceive that what is sonorous in their own ears at a 
distance of fifty feet from the speaker cannot be 
heard by an actor at the distance of one or two*? 
No person of common ingenuity will be willing 
to admit that even a most intricate dramatic nar- 
rative could not be rendered intelligible without 
these monstrous inartisticalities. They are the 
relics of a day when men were content with but 
little of that true art whose nature they imper- 
fectly understood and are now retained solely 
through that supine spirit of imitation which 
grows out of the drama itself as the chief of the 
imitative arts." 

And that was nearly eighty years ago. 



PRESENTING "FOGG'S FERRY" 

SPEAKING of the celebrated decline of the 
drama, it is possible to derive considerable 
comfort and now and again a little entertain- 
ment from reading the plays which attained some 
measure of popularity and approval in the seven- 
ties and eighties — the days when maidens glowed 
over "St. Elmo" and all Americans wept bitterly 
at "Hazel Kirke." Turn back to the shriveling 
pages of the New York dailies for May 15, 1882. 
The amusement columns of that day carried this 
announcement : 

First Appearance of the Charming Young Comedienne 

MISSMINNIEMADDERN 

as 

CHIP 

in 

FOGG'S FERRY 

Charles E. Callahan's romantic comedy-drama of human 

love and passion. 

Illustrated by a strong company with picturesque scenery 

and magnificent effects. 

137 



138 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

"Fogg's Ferry" vanished long ago into the 
limbo of forgotten plays, but I have read it with 
much pleasure. The heroine, Chip^ is a red- 
headed minx of the sort that Lotta used to play. 
Miss Maddern enacted the role with a good deal 
of red stocking. Chip dwells at the river's edge 
with Fogg, the ferrjinan, whom she supposes to 
be her father. The suspicion that she is of aris- 
tocratic birth, that she is one of those countless 
heroines who never fail to be smuggled away in 
infancy, is broached at the end of Act I in the 
following touching scene: 

Mrs. Fogg [angrily]. Chip can do as she likes for 
all me. 

Rawdon [the villain, who has been pursuing Chip]. 
Yes, you old hag, Chip can do as she likes ! You are 
not her mother. 

Mrs. Fogg [staggered, but rallying] . It — it 's a big 
lie. Talk 's cheap. Who minds what you say ? 

Chip. I do. [Crosses down before resuming]. I 
am sixteen years old to-day. I 'm no longer a child. 
And Mammy, if you are Mammy, I 'm going to leave 
the old ferry, leave forever. I know I 'm a wild, rough 
girl, with raising not the best, but I love the old place, 
love it because it 's been home. I will still call you 
mother until I have better knowledge that you are not 
than Mr. Rawdon's word. You 've been a little hard 
on me at times, but I forgive it all now, and I can't 
leave you without a tear. Mr. Rawdon, I don't want 
even you to think badly of me. I know I 'm not a lady, 
and you don't think me one, but I never yet told a false- 



PRESENTING "FOGG'S FERRY" 139 

hood, or did a mean thing, and I reckon that will count. 
You called me a lady, spite of my rough ways. Now 
that we come to part, show me you meant it. Tell me, 
tell me, Mr. Rawdon, if it 's only by a sign, you think 
I 'm a lady! [Rawdon hesitates. White advances on 
him threateningly, Rawdon finally raises his hat slightly 
and bows. White removes hat, bowing. Mrs. Fogg 
stares bewildered. Enter Fogg from house and takes off 
hat.] Picture. 

In the second act of "Fogg's Ferry," Chip has 
been imported as a sort of demi-servant, demi- 
protege in the household of a wealthy gentleman, 
who, of course, turns out later to be her father. 
Meanwhile, the spurious daughter, Blanche., 
treats her with proper scorn. Blanche is that 
kind. Says Blanche: "You think that a pretty 
home in this monotonous country should satisfy. 
It does not. I want action, society, amusement, 
the world. Farm-hands and milk-maids — I rank 
them below my horse." You can further savor 
Blanche's character and social style by hearing 
her give one order. "You may take charge of 
this precious package," says Blanche, haughtily, 
"and have our man Still tell my maid Martha to 
leave it in my room." Whereat the shy and sub- 
missive Chip steps forward and offers to do the 
errand. Blanche., at this suggestion, registers, ac- 
cording to the author's suggestion, "a supercilious 



140 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

look" and says : "I did not notice the presence of 
of a menial." Well, Blanche is betrothed to the 
handsome Bruce Rawdon^ but Razvdon, suspect- 
ing that Chip is the real heiress, keeps wooing her 
on the side to be safe. 

He even tries to frighten her by hinting at 
some dark secret which he holds over her. This 
dialogue follows: 

Chip. What do you know against me*? 

Rawdon. Enough to call the blush of shame to that 
speaking countenance. 

Chip. That is not true. If you assert that I have 
ever done or even thought a shameful act, Mr. Rawdon 
you — you lie. 

Rawdon. Not you, personally. But disgrace often 
falls on the innocent. Questionable antecedents, for 
example. I could reveal something concerning you that 
would drive you from this house. 

Chip. And show unmanly cowardice. My life, Mr. 
Rawdon, has been low and hard. I am struggling to 
climb. I have done so. Now you would drive me back. 
Don't you feel noble, Bruce Rawdon, fighting a lone 
girl? 

Rawdon. I am not quite a cur. Chip. Let us be 
friends, more than friends. I said I could harm you, 
not woiUd. 

Chip. Then don't lower me with those I have come 
to value and cloud all my poor little sunshine. Mr. 
Rawdon, if you have such power, I implore you, do not 
use it. 

Rawdon [as Chip falls on her knees]. Don't kneel 
to me, little lady. 



PRESENTING "FOGG'S FERRY" 141 

Blanche {entering at this juncture and enraged by 
the spectacle^. What is my affianced husband doing 
with this girl? Why on your knees, my lady? Is he 
pouring into willing ears his blazing passion? 

Rawdon [aside]. Damnation! 

After a sequence of such contretemps, poor 
Chip is found at last, wandering disconsolate by 
the brim of the old river. "They all shun me," 
she murmurs to herself. "Why not end it all^ 
Those dark waters leave no bloodstains. The 
swift current will carry me far away and none 
will know my fate." But, of course, she is inter- 
cepted in her plunge by Gerald White^ the hero 
and predestined sweetheart of Chip. The fol- 
lowing love-scene is worth preserving: 

White. Chip, rash child, what were you about to 
do? 

Chip. Go away, Mr. White. Do? End it all. 
I '11 find peace beneath those waters. There 's none for 
me here. 

White. Fie, Chip. Youth is the age for life, not 
death. You are discouraged and morbid and think the 
world contains no friend. I 've been a thoughtless boy 
myself but this has ripened me into manhood. Trust 
me! 

Chip. Gerald White, you are a man that any girl 
would gladly trust. But I am snared, helpless, wretched. 
What is to become of me? 

White. First of all, wrap up in this coat. [Offers 
coai.] You are shivering. 



142 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Chip. No, no, I 'm not cold. Yes, I am cold, but 
not the way you think. Once when a little child, I was 
lost in a snowdrift and nearly frozen. But I am colder 
now. My heart is frozen. 

White. I did n't mean to speak yet, but this affair 
precipitates a crisis. 

Chip. What do you mean? 

White. Mean, Chip? You are to me hope, incen- 
tive, aspiration, my one dear lodestone to success. You 
must be my little wife. Promise. 

Chip. It would not do, Gerald White. Your good 
heart, your pity for a forlorn wretch, impels you to speak 
those words. You have a future — have prospects. I 'd 
be but a clog. How could a gentleman like you link 
his destiny with an outcast like me? Leave me. 

He does leave her, for a moment, and during 
that moment Chip learns that more villainy is 
afoot. Up the river is coming a steamboat with 
her benefactor aboard, also many valuables and, 
though she little guesses it, a document establish- 
ing her identity and her claim to a fortune. But 
in the path of the boat the dark plotters have 
placed a time bomb. Chip, with whom the de- 
parting White has left a revolver for her protec- 
tion, cries out: 

The steamboat is coming and they 've put that thing 
in the channel to blow her up. Merciful Heaven, what 
can I do? If I could but reach it. Any shock would 
burst it and save the boat. But I can do nothing. Oh, 
Heavenly Father, am I to idle here while innocent lives 
are butchered? Ah, the pistol! 



PRESENTING 'TOGO'S FERRY" 143 

So, as the villains rush at her (one of them, by 
the way, crying out, "Away, gal, or jou 11 be 
killed"), Ck2p leaps to the river's bank, fires at 
the bomb, explodes it, sees the great burst of 
smoke and flame, and then, as the curtain falls, 
swoons happily away at the sight of the boat 
sailing majestical and safe to the dock. 

It was in such truck as "Fogg's Ferry" that 
Mrs. Fiske came to us in the first days of her 
stardom — she, who was later to play "Hannele" 
and "Tess" and "Rosmersholm," who was, all 
told, to be more completely identified with the 
loftier literature of the theater than any other 
American player of her time. It is a cheerful fact 
that in the theater a "Fogg's Ferry" will some- 
times lead to a "Rosmersholm," which is whj so 
many of us — players, playwrights, playgoers — 
keep on trying. 



XI 
EUGENE O'NEILL 

THE most interesting playwright of the new 
generation in America is Eugene G. 
O'Neill. Short and long, experimental, a little 
undisciplined and exuberant, vigorous always and 
always somber, his plays have, by their own force, 
pushed their way up from the tentative little 
playhouses tucked away in Greenwich Village 
and have summoned imperiously the wider audi- 
ences of the pay-as-you-enter theater. Not one of 
them but has its blemishes that would catch the 
roving eye of any dramatic critic over the age 
of two. But they have stature, every one of them, 
and imagination and a little greatness. And they 
come stalking into the American theater like a 
Hardy novel following unexpectedly on a suc- 
cession of tales by Hall Caine and Marie Corelli. 
One observes among the scribes and Pharisees 
of the New York journals an itch to single out 

one of his works — "Beyond the Horizon," say, or 

144 



EUGENE O'NEILL 145 

"The Hairy Ape," or perhaps "The Emperor 
Jones" — as the Great American Play. That 
phrase has been flitting in and out of American 
criticism ever since the days when Walt Whit- 
man was somewhat indignantly reviewing plays 
for "The Brooklyn Eagle" and Edgar Allan Poe, 
for lack of any great variety of theatrical fare, 
was going night after night to record the changes 
made in Anna Cora Mowatt's "Fashion" at the 
old Park Theater of the forties. WTien, after 
many years, William Vaughan Moody came out 
of the cloister with "The Great Divide" tucked 
under his arm, a false alarm went up and created 
for a little while the impression that the thing 
had been done at last. Nowadays we are all 
more disposed to recognize the Great American 
Play as the one which is to be written next year. 
It can, however, be said of O'Neill that in his 
own equipment are to be found two factors, both 
of which, under the doctrine of chances, one would 
rather expect to find present in the equipment 
of the Great American Playwright. For one 
thing, he was born in the theater. Then he spent 
a part of his life in work and wandering so remote 
from it that he found a perspective on life and 
gained such knowledge of folks as they can never 



146 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

gain whose feet know only the path that stretches 
from the stage-door to the Lambs' Club. You 
will find both factors present in the years of prep- 
aration which led up to the writing of "The First 
Year," the best comedy yet written by an Ameri- 
can. You will find them both present in the 
years of preparation which led up to the writing 
of "Abraham Lincoln," the most interesting play 
which England has sent to America in ten years. 
(They are always saying of John Drinkwater that 
he went from an insurance clerk's stool to a poet's 
garret on his way to the theater. They forget 
to mention that his father was an actor and that 
young Drinkwater probably heard a good deal of 
blank verse and a bit of rhetoric in his nursery.) 
You will find both factors present in the stories 
of Varesi and of the younger Guitry, to catch at 
two names which happen to have their place on 
near-by pages. 

The force of heredity does show itself again 
and again in the writing of plays, chiefly, I think, 
in a predisposition to the theater's peculiar idiom 
and in a happy, unchafing submission to its laws, 
of which the natural-born playwright is no more 
aware, as he pegs away, than you, while walking 
the streets of your town, are aware of how much 



EUGENE O'NEILL 147 

the law of gravitation is interfering with your 
personal liberty. 

Eugene O'Neill, then, is the younger son of 
that fine Irish actor, the late James O'Neill, a 
stalwart of the Booth and Barrett days, who later 
took to the road at the head of his own company, 
making a large fortune through many seasons with 
the play of "Monte Cristo," and retiring at last 
to the considerable portion of the State of Con- 
necticut which he had bought with that fortune. 
Eugene O'Neill was born in Chicago during one 
of those tours, and it is worth noting that the 
young advance man who, on that occasion, was 
sent hatless through the midnight streets of Chi- 
cago in quest of a doctor was the same George 
C. Tyler who, nearly thirty years later, was the 
first Broadway manager to buy an O'Neill play. 

Since the establishment of O'Neill as a play- 
wright, a little legend of wildness has grown up 
about his )^outh. It was known that he had gone 
in and out of Princeton with greater expedition 
than usually marks the sojourns at that uni- 
versity, and there was a persistent tale that he 
discovered the sea and all the incalculable part 
it was to play in his life by the abrupt but salu- 
tary process of being shanghaied. This, I am 



148 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

told, is not true, but at all events he did become 
a seaman, did find himself and the world in many 
a far and motley port, and did come home at last 
to settle down on a lonely strip of New England 
coast, there to write play after play in which, now 
remote and murmurous, now close and harsh and 
insistent, you hear the music of the sea. 



"Beyond the Horizon" 

There came to New York one afternoon early 
in 1920, as a tentative and hesitant candidate for 
whatever hospitality that capricious and some- 
what harassed city might be moved to offer, a play 
which, for all its looseness and a certain high-and- 
mighty impracticability, was possessed of ele- 
ments of greatness. This was "Beyond the Hori- 
zon," a vital and valid tragedy by Eugene G. 
O'Neill — a play that was as native as "Light- 
nin' " and which had the mood, the austerity, and, 
all in all, the stature of a novel by Thomas Hardy. 
Seldom had an American playwright written for 
our theater a piece half so good and true. 

It was O'Neill's first long play to reach the 



EUGENE O'NEILL 149 

stage. It had been preceded by six or seven one- 
act pieces, produced at different times by one or 
another of the experimental theaters in the by- 
ways of New York, those oft-derided, semi- 
amateur companies which are serving one of their 
chief purposes in life when they thus aid and en- 
courage the short trial flights of men like Eugene 
O'Neill. 

"Beyond the Horizon" unfolds the tragedy of 
a young, farm-bom dreamer, whose romantic 
mind and frail body yearn for the open sea, the 
swarming ports of the mysterious East, the beck- 
oning world beyond the line of hills which shut 
in the acres of his home. By all that is in him, 
he is destined for a wanderer's life, but Fate, in 
wanton mood, tethers him to this little hill-cupped 
farm and watches coolly the misery and decay 
this means for all his house. You meet him first 
at this cross-roads of his life and see him take the 
wrong turning. To him, on the night before he 
is to set sail for a three years' cruise around the 
world, comes love in the form of a neighbor's 
daughter whom he and all his people had thought 
marked rather for his brother. Blinded by the 
flame kindled in that moment of her confession, 
he lightly foregoes all thought of the world be- 



150 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

yond the horizon, plans to settle at once on the 
farm with his jubilant bride, and watches serenely 
enough while his heart-wrenched brother sets 
forth on the cruise that was to have been his — 
the bluff, unromantic brother who, irony of 
ironies, is a true son of the soil, born to do noth- 
ing but work its fields and sure to wither if up- 
rooted. 

Then you follow through the years the decay 
of that household, the tragedy of the misfit. You 
see the waning of love, the birth of disappoint- 
ment, the corrosion of poverty and spite and dis- 
ease. You watch the romance burn itself out to 
an ugly cinder. You see the woman grow drab 
and dull and sullen, and you see the man, wasted 
by the consumption another life might have 
avoided, crawl at last out of the hated house to 
die on the road he should have traveled, straining 
his eyes toward the hills he never crossed. 

All this is told with sure dramatic instinct, 
clear understanding, and a certain quite unsenti- 
mental compassion. To an extent unfamiliar in 
our theater, this play seems alive. This is not 
merely because truth works within it nor because 
of the realness of its people. It is rather because 
of the visible growth and change that take place 
as the play unfolds. 



EUGENE O'NEILL 151 

The aging of the people is evidenced by more 
than the mere graying at the temples and the 
change of clothes, those easy symbols by which 
the theater is wont to recognize, if at all, the 
flight of the years. In a hundred and one ways 
it is evidenced as well by the slow changing 
of character and the steady deterioration of the 
souls — a progression of the spirit which, by the 
way, asked great things of the actors, and, for the 
most part, asked not in vain. O'Neill paints his 
canvas with what Henley called "the exquisite 
chromatics of decay." You might almost say, 
then, that the play is alive because it follows the 
inexorable processes of death. Not since Arnold 
Bennett's "Old Wives' Tale" has any book or 
play given us quite so persuasively a sense of the 
passage of time. 

We have in O'Neill evidence a-plenty of a 
predisposition for the dramatic that is as pro- 
nounced as the Barrjinore inheritance. But we 
also have one who has lived so remote from the 
theater that he has been uncorrupted by the 
merely theatrical and has carried over into his 
own workshop not one of the worn stencils and 
battered properties which are the dust-covered 
accumulation of years. 

The same remoteness, which so freshens the air 



152 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

of his play, is probably responsible also for its 
considerable impracticability. He was an im- 
practical playwright, for instance, who wrote into 
his play the character of a two-year-old girl and 
gave her two long scenes, with business to do and 
lines to speak. He might have known that the 
part would have to be given to a child disturb- 
ingly, almost comically older than the baby called 
for by the context. 

Certainly it was a quite impractical playwright 
who needlessly split each of his three acts into two 
scenes, one outside and one inside the Mayo farm- 
house. It was natural enough for him to want to 
show the highroad of Robert Mayo's dreams, in- 
evitable that he should itch to place one scene on 
the hilltop, with its almost protagonistic vista of 
the distant sea. But no essential purpose is 
served by these exteriors which could not have 
been served had they been unfolded within the 
farm-house, without a break of any kind. 

Some of a novelist's luxuries must be fore- 
gone by a writer when he goes into the theater, 
and one of the lessons he must learn is that the 
ever illusion-dispelling process of dropping a cur- 
tain, releasing an audience, and shifting a scene 
is accepted twice and sometimes three times by a 



EUGENE O'NEILL 153 

modem audience without even an unrecognized 
resistance. But any further interruption works 
havoc with the spell. It may be reported here 
that, at the second performance, the third act was 
telescoped into a single scene, and it may be 
guessed that the play would not only be a better 
knit but a much more popular piece if the same 
violence were done the other acts when the piece 
is revived. 

In the theater what you want and what you 
get are very different. A more shop-wise play- 
wright would have known that for his exteriors, 
each of them but a portion of an act and there- 
fore certain to be of a hasty and makeshift nature, 
he could scarcely count on so illusive and charm- 
ing a vista, so persuasive a creation of the out- 
doors as can glorify a more leisurely scene. The 
conspicuously dinky expanses of nature provided 
for "Beyond the Horizon" must have been a good 
deal of a shock to O'Neill. The wrinkled skies, 
the portiere-like trees, the clouds so close you were 
in momentary expectation that a scrub-lady would 
waddle on and wash them — these made doubly 
futile the dashes in and out of the Mayo farm- 
house. 

It is one thing for O'Neill to sit at his far- 



154 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

away sea-coast study and dream a scene — another 
thing to find it provided for his play when the first 
curtain rises in New York. It is instructive to 
compare the unillusive setting for his first scene 
with the stage picture as he had imagined it and 
set it forth in his script: 

A section of a country highway. The road runs 
diagonally from the left, forward, to the right, rear, 
and can be seen winding toward the horizon like a pale 
ribbon between the low, rolling hills with their freshly 
plowed fields clearly divided from each other, checker- 
board fashion, by the lines of stone walls and rough 
snake-fences. 

The forward triangle, cut off by the road, is a section 
of a field, from the dark earth of which myriad bright- 
green blades of fall-sown rye are sprouting. A straggling 
line of piled rocks, too low to be called a wall, separates 
this field from the road. 

To the rear of the road is a ditch with a slewing grassy 
bank on the far side. From the center of this an old, 
gnarled apple-tree, just budding into leaf, strains its 
twisted branches heavenward with despairing gestures, 
black against the pallor of distance. A snake-fence sidles 
grotesquely from left to right along the top of the bank, 
passing beneath the apple-tree. 

The dreamy twilight of a day in May is just begin- 
ning. The horizon hills are still rimmed by a faint line 
of flame, and the sky above them is radiant with the 
dying flush of the sunset. This disappears gradually, 
and stars awake in the infinite, drowsily, one by one. 

At the rise of the curtain, Robert Mayo is discovered 
sitting on the fence. . . . 



EUGENE O'NEILL 155 

What O'Neill actually found on the Morosco 
stage was what people usually get who cry for 
the moon — instead of sixpence. 

There is no need now to expatiate on the de- 
tails of the deeply satisfying performance given 
by the composite company assembled for those 
special matinees but there must be special mention 
of the gorgeous performance given by Louise 
Closser Hale as the semi-paralyzed mother-in-law 
who carps away at life from her wheel-chair and 
regards Robert's yearnings with about as much 
sympathy as that intensely local old lady who 
bought David Copperfied's caul, she whose motto 
in life was: "Let there be no meandering." It 
was worth going miles to see the way Mrs. Hale 
made that wheel-chair take a part in the play. 
She used it as Mrs. Fiske uses a fan or a lorgnette, 
something to brandish, something wherewith to 
bridle and emphasize a thought or point a bit of 
wit. 

This cast for "Beyond the Horizon" was as- 
sembled from the two companies which in the 
evening devoted themselves to "For the Defense" 
and "The Storm." The success of the amalgam, 
which gave the producer almost as much freedom 
of choice as he needed, suggests that the double 



156 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

theater is probably the best solution of the prob- 
lem confronting the producer who is minded to 
create a repertory theater. While New York 
awaits the somewhat doubtful benefit of a reper- 
tory theater, it may be observed that much of the 
work expected of such an institution is being done 
by the modest institution known as the special 
matinee, which brought "The Yellow Jacket" to 
life again, and which, in "Beyond the Horizon,'* 
gave us one of the real plays of our time. 



2 

*The Emperor Jones" 

The Provincetown Players began their 1920- 
21 season in Macdougal Street with the impetus 
of a new play by the as yet unbridled Eugene 
O'Neill, an extraordinarily striking and dramatic 
study of panic fear which is called "The Emperor 
Jones." It reinforces the impression that for 
strength and originality he has no rival among 
the American writers for the stage. Though this 
new play of his was so clumsily produced that its 
presentation consisted largely of long, unventi- 
lated intermissions interspersed with fragmentary 



EUGENE O'NEILL 157 

scenes, it wove a most potent spell, thanks partly 
to the force and cunning of its author, thanks 
partly to the admirable playing of Charles S. 
Gilpin in a title role so predominant that the play 
is a little more than a dramatic monologue. His 
was an uncommonly powerful and imaginative 
performance, in several respects imsurpassed that 
season in New York. Mr. Gilpin is a negro. 

The 'Emperor Jones is a burly darky from the 
States who has broken jail there and escaped as 
a stowaway to what the program describes as "a 
West Indian island not yet self-determined by 
white marines." There, thanks a good deal to 
the American business philosophy he had picked 
up as a half-preoccupied porter listening wide- 
eyed in the smoking-rooms of the Pullman cars 
back home, he is sufficiently bold, ingenious, and 
unscrupulous to make himself ruler within two 
years. He has moved unharmed among his sullen 
subjects by virtue of a legend of his invention 
that only a silver bullet could harm him — this 
part of the play, at least, was not Mr. O'Neill's 
invention — but now, when he has squeezed from 
his domain just about all the wealth it will yield, 
he suspects it would be well for him to take flight. 
As the play begins, the measured sound of a beat- 



158 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

ing tom-tom in the hills gives warning that the 
natives are in conclave there, using all manner of 
incantations to work up their courage to the point 
of rebellion. 

The hour of Emperor Jones has come, and 
nightfall finds him already at the edge of the dis- 
tant forest, through whose trackless waste he 
knows a way to safety and freedom. He has food 
hidden there and, anyway, his revolver carries 
five bullets for his enemies and one of silver for 
himself in case he is ever really cornered. 

It is a bold, self-reliant adventurer who strikes 
out into the jungle at sunset. It is a confused, 
broken, naked, half-crazed creature who, at dawn, 
stumbles blindly back to his starting-place, only 
to find the natives calmly waiting there to shoot 
him down with bullets they have been piously 
molding according to his own prescription. 

The forest has broken him. Full of strange 
sounds and shadows, it conjures up visions of his 
own and his ancestral past. These haunt him, 
and at each crisis of fear he fires wildly into the 
darkness and goes crashing on through the under- 
brush, losing his way, wasting all his defense, 
signaling his path, and waking a thousand sinister 
echoes to work still more upon his terrible fear. 



EUGENE O'NEILL 159 

It begins with the rattle of invisible dice in the 
darkness, and then, as in a little clearing, he sud- 
denly sees the squatting darky he had slain back 
home in a gamblers' squarrel. He plunges on, 
but only to find himself once more strangely 
caught in the old chain-gang, while the guard 
cracks that same whip whose stinging lash had 
goaded him to another murder. Then, as his fear 
quickens, the forest fills with old-fashioned peo- 
ple who stare at him and bid for him. They seem 
to be standing him on some sort of block. They 
examine his teeth, test his strength, flex his biceps. 
The scene yields only to the galley of a slave-ship, 
and his own cries of terror take up the rhythmic 
lamentation of his people. Finally, it is a race 
memory of old Congo fears which drives him 
shrieking back through the forest to the very 
clearing whence he had started and where now 
his death so complacently awaits him. 

From first to last, through all the agonizing 
circle of his flight, he is followed by the dull beat, 
beat, beat of the tom-tom, ever nearer, ever faster, 
till it seems to be playing an ominous accompani- 
ment to his mounting panic. The heightening 
effect of this device is much as you might imagine. 

Through most of O'Neill's imaginings for the 



i6o SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

stage there sound just such drum-beats of ap- 
proaching disaster — now symbolized in something 
physical like that tom-tom which hounded the 
fleeing Jones., now merely something heard in the 
overtones of the play, as Robert Ingersoll, listen- 
ing to Mrs. Fiske's "Tess," could hear the "omin- 
ous footfalls of Fate." In "The First Man" it 
was the coming of a baby. In "The Straw" it 
was the unhalting progress of tuberculosis, for it 
was characteristic of O'Neill to unfold one of 
his romances in a tuberculosis sanatorium and a 
sign of the new times that this play was not 
spumed by the so-called "commercial theater" 
but was lavishly staged in New York. 

"The Emperor Jones" not only moved up to 
Broadway but toured the country all the next 
year. It owed its great appeal chiefly to its dis- 
covery in Gilpin of a really superb actor, a player 
of fine understanding, genuine emotional power, 
and an uncommonly beautiful voice. It is in the 
irony of things that for this authentic and con- 
spicuous talent there is in existence no dramatic 
literature. Except for "The Emperor Jones," 
there is no first-rate play which has a negro role 
of Gilpin's stature, and there is not likely to be 
another unless his talent inspires one. While 



EUGENE O'NEILL 161 

"The Emperor Jones" was being written, Gilpin 
was running an elevator. 



3 
"The Hairy Ape" 

April, 1922, saw "The Hairy Ape" installed 
at the Plymouth. For the third time an O'Neill 
piece burst the seams of the little Provincetown 
Playhouse. Like "Diff'rent" and "The Emperor 
Jones," it reached Broadway by the Macdougal 
Street route. "The Hairy Ape," which the author 
dryly describes in his manuscript as "a comedy 
of ancient and modern life," is a brutal, startling, 
dismaying, and singularly vivid play, which will 
linger in the memory long after most of the stuff 
that season produced has faded out of mind. 

The beginnings of it can be traced back to the 
days ten or eleven years before when O'Neill was 
an" able seaman aboard one of the ships of the 
American Line and came to know a certain stoker 
on the same ship — a huge Liverpool Irishman, 
who drank enormously, relished nothing in all the 
world so much as a good knock-down-and-drag- 
out fight, and who had a mighty pride in his own 



i62 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

strength, a pride that gloried in the heat and ex- 
haustion of the stoke-hole which would drop the 
weaklings and leave him roaring with mirth at 
the sight of them carried out. He was just such 
a specimen, therefore, as the Yank Smith on 
whose immense shoulders the ominous, nightmare 
events of "The Hairy Ape" press down like the 
crowding phantoms in some fantastic picture of 
Despair. 

In the mutual snobbery of the liner, O'Neill 
as a seaman could hardly exchange confidences 
with the stoker, but they got to know each other 
ashore in the greater democracy of Johnny the 
Priest's saloon down in Fulton Street just around 
the corner from West — the same saloon, prob- 
ably, through whose grimy windows the light 
filtered on the gaudy hair and cheerless face of 
Anna Christie. There, over his beer, O'Neill was 
free to contemplate the immense complacency of 
the Irishman and his glowing satisfaction with 
what most folks would h^ve regarded as an un- 
enviable role in the world. The memory of that 
satisfaction furnished a curious background for 
the news which drifted up from the water-front 
some years later — the tidings that one night, when 
the ship was plowing along in mid-Atlantic, the 



1 



EUGENE O'NEILL 163 

big stoker had stolen up on deck and jumped over- 
board. Why*? What had happened to shake 
that Gargantuan contentment? What had broken 
in and so disturbed a vast satisfaction with the 
world that the big fellow had been moved to leave 
it? O'Neill never heard if any one knew, but 
out of his own speculation there took shape at last 
the play called "The Hairy Ape." 

It is a fantastic play in eight scenes. The 
earlier ones are laid aboard a liner streaking across 
the sea from New York to Liverpool. When you 
want a play of blinding contrasts, you can hardly 
do better than board one of these ships, which 
are floating microcosms of an inequitable world. 
Side by side, so close they can almost touch each 
other, are the very extremes of fortune — great 
poverty and great wealth; here squalor, there 
luxury; on the one hand toil as terrific as man 
ever planned for man, and on the other an empty 
and nonchalant leisure — side by side, so close 
they can almost touch each other. O'Neill is in 
quest of contrasts as sharp as ever any afforded by 
the gentry of Rome a-sprawl on the couches of 
ships sped along the Mediterranean by row on 
row of weary, back-bent galley-slaves. He 
catches at both pictures and shows them in swift 



i64 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

succession. First comes the cramped, dim-lit, 
crowded firemen's forecastle, packed with roaring 
sweating giants, glistening men stripped to the 
waists with mighty shoulders and low foreheads, 
motley men scooped up from all corners of the 
earth. It is their job to feed the furnaces and 
forge the heat that will drive the ship across the 
world. From their clamor you shift suddenly to 
the hurricane-deck, a gaily painted smoke-stack 
silhouetted against an incredibly blue sky, with 
no more smoke than just a ribbon of it to make 
an interesting composition out of the picture of 
that sky. The deck is spotless and sun-splashed 
and in one of the deck-chairs that have been 
drawn offishly into the turn of the promenade a 
foolish, bloodless girl lies toying with some ideas. 
Down below Yank is bellowing his own. Let 
the weaklings, who can't breathe and swallow 
coal-dust, sigh, if they must, for the fresh air and 
the peace of the old sailing days. Granted that 
work in the stoke-hole is hell. He chants his 
credo : 

Hell, sure ! Dat 's my favorite climate. I eat it up ! 
It 's me makes it roar. It 's me makes it move. Sure, 
on'y for me everything stops. It all goes dead, get me? 
De noise and smoke and all de engines movin' de woild, 
dey stop. Dere ain't nothin' no more ! Dat 's what I 'm 



EUGENE O'NEILL 16^ 

sayin'. Everything else dat makes de woild move, 
somp'n makes it move. It can't move without somp'n 
else, see ? Den yuh get down to me. I 'm at the bottom, 
get me ? Dere ain't nothin' foither. I 'm de end ! I 'm 
de start ! I start somp'n and de woild moves. It — dat 's 
me ! De new dat's moidern de old. I 'm de ting in coal 
dat makes it boin ; I 'm steam and oil for de engines ; 
I 'm de ting in noise dat makes you hear it ; I 'm smoke 
and express trains, and steamers and factory whistles ; 
I 'm de ting in gold dat makes it money ! And I 'm what 
makes iron into steel ! Steel, dat stands for de whole 
ting ! And I 'm steel — steel — steel ! I 'm de muscle in 
steel, de punch behind it ! [As he says this he pounds 
with his fist against the steel bunk. All the men, roused 
to a pitch of frenzied self-glorification by his speech, do 
likewise. There is a deafening metallic roar through 
which Yank's voice can be heard bellowing. \ Slaves, 
hell ! We run de whole woiks. We 're it, get me ! All 
de rich guys dat tink dey 're somp'n, dey ain't nothin' ! 
Dey don't belong. But us guys, we 're in de move, we 're 
at de bottom, de whole ting is us, see ? We belong ! 

To Yank then comes the girl, mincing down 
the companionway, guarded by solicitous ship's 
officers, a little flustered by her pouting, wilful 
determination to see how the other half lives. 
Into the very spot-light of the insatiable furnaces 
she trips, at a moment when the big stoker is 
roaring with rage at the imperious whistle of the 
engineer, when his little eyes are red with anger 
and his mouth is spewing out a Niagara of oaths 
and when his shovel is brandished like some 



i66 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

bludgeon in the hands of the Neanderthal Man. 
At that moment in walks the girl. Her face tells 
plainly enough that she has come suddenly on 
something monstrous and bestial and terrifying, 
a gorilla, perhaps — a hairy ape. She stands trans- 
fixed for a moment, staring open-mouthed. Then 
she faints. It is the world's first notice to Yank 
that he does n't belong. 

The rest of the play is just his hurt, bewil- 
dered, furious effort to get even — to get at her, 
if he can, to rip her finery off her and to spit in 
her white, transparent face. Frustrated in that, 
he searches for others like her to mash them and 
trample them under foot. The buffetings which 
the unruffled world deals him in his pursuit of 
this revenge (with ever and always the phrase 
"hairy ape" spat at him as he flounders along) are 
all pictured by the play in short, stabbing scenes 
so distorted and so fantastic that "The Hairy 
Ape" takes on the bad dream accent and aspect 
of an ugly fable. That is why it seems the most 
natural of consequences that he should steal into 
the night-shrouded Zoo at last and acknowledge 
the gorilla as his brother, that he should open the 
cage and invite the gorilla to come out and join 
him in one last bout with an unfriendly world. 



EUGENE O'NEILL 167 

That is why in the final moment of the play you 
accept it as inevitable that the gorilla should 
crunch him to death in two gigantic, hairy arms 
and pitch him dying into the cage. 

In this piece there are new evidences of O'Neill 
writing not in isolation, as had been his wont, but 
on the very stage where his work was to be played. 
The new play suggested a greater familiarity with 
the theater as an instrument, and, as all plays 
should be, was evidently worked out in collabora- 
tion with the artists who would make it visible 
and the actors who would give it body. And 
here, for once, was O'Neill writing with a disposi- 
tion not to express all his thoughts in words, but 
to leave something to the players. And Louis 
Wolheim, who played the stoker, made a genuine 
contribution to "The Hairy Ape." Once he was 
a foot-ball player at Cornell, on whose gridiron 
he came honorably by the broken nose which was 
so useful a part of his make-up. Later he taught 
at Cornell and engineered in Mexico and finally 
sidled into the theater under the guidance of 
Lionel Barrymore. He did himself proud in his 
first important role. 

For the adornment of his piece O'Neill dove 
deep into Bobby Jones's locker. Both the scene on 



i6?J SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Blackwell's Island and the scene in the monkey- 
house were capital examples of inferential stage- 
setting. In the former you saw only the one cell 
and the one crouched prisoner behind its steel 
bars. But a jabbering chorus of many voices 
pitched words down out of the surrounding dark- 
ness and the very angle of the single cell started 
your imagination to constructing a hundred 
others, fading away into that darkness, row on 
row, tier on tier. 

There were two especial strictures in the criti- 
cism which trailed after "The Hairy Ape" 
through the dailies and weeklies. One deplored 
the sudden fantastic note entering into the com- 
position so late as the fifth scene. As a matter 
of fact, a sensitive ear would detect that note in 
the very first scene, with its regimented motion 
and its stylicized laughter and its abstractions 
of thought. And in each succeeding scene. The 
notion that those earlier episodes aboard ship were 
naturalistically wrought was a curious illusion of 
the playgoer's mind, traceable probably to the 
squalor of the language and to the same confu- 
sion which was addling the lady, who, when ask- 
ing whether such-and-such a current play was 
"realistic," replied, "Oh, no; it deals with very 
refined and pleasant people." 



EUGENE O'NEILL 169 

The other stricture dealt with the oaths which 
flow in a steady cascade from the baffled and un- 
happy stoker. They were stigmatized as "inade- 
quate." There is some justice in this, for now 
and again Yank's profanity mounts to a rather 
limp epithet, less rich and racy, certainly, than 
those which must have eased the feelings of the 
real Yank. They recall to mind an eloquent 
base-ball captain long ago in the sinful past of 
Hamilton College. He was hopping up and down 
expressing in vivid monosyllables his emotions 
about a certain error when, midway, he discov- 
ered the president standing benignly near. The 
captain's arms were spread, his face contorted, 
his eyes blazing. And from between his wild lips 
sped the words, "Good gracious !" Still, it must 
be admitted that a tolerable substitute idiom for 
stoke-hole speech is difficult to invent, as John 
Dos Passos found out when he came to write 
"Three Soldiers" — or at least when he came to 
read those parts of his manuscript his publishers 
had decided to print. And it ought to be recorded 
that the speech of "The Hairy Ape" is rougher 
talk than the American theater has heard in our 
time. As we sat listening to it, it is difficult to 
believe it was only five years before that one 
coarse epithet popping out in the climax of "Our 



170 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Betters" seemed so extraordinarily bold and in- 
spired fourteen articles on what the present-day 
stage was coming to. Evidently it was coming 
to "The Hairy Ape." My own dissatisfaction is 
rather with the language spoken on the hurricane- 
deck. Granted that it is meant to be small talk 
artificialized like filigree, still it suggests too much 
the way the duchesses talk in a scullery-maid's 
first novel. 



XII 
DEBURAU, PERE, AND GUITRY, FILS 

SACHA GUITRY, himself an actor and the 
son of a greater one, had spent all his days 
in the theater writing and playing in gay, jaunty, 
mischievous trivial pieces, when, in the darkest 
days of the war, the doctors sentenced him to an 
early death, and he was smitten with a panicky 
desire to write such a piece as might live after 
him in the eternal repertoire of the French the- 
ater. So he vanished from Paris, and when he 
came back he carried under his arm the manu- 
script of his masterpiece. He had wrought a play 
around the two Deburaus, father and son, who, 
one after the other, as Pierrots incomparable, 
drew the gamins and the great folk of their Paris 
to the little Theatre des Funambules in the hey- 
day of French pantomime. 

Looking back through the shifting veils of 
eighty years, he wrote him a tragi-comedy of dis- 
illusionment, a lonely and beautiful play which 

is an expression of the philosophy of the stage, 

171 



172 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

the credo of the actor, the sad-faced comedian's 
apologia pro vita sua. In spirited and occa- 
sionally magical vers lihre^ he poured forth this 
piece which in the list of those rare plays written 
not only by the theater and for the theater, but 
of the theater, is without a peer in the dramatic 
literature of his country and ours. 

It was done into execrable English verse by 
Granville Barker and its New York premiere 
marked the debut here as a star of Lionel Atwill, 
coming before us in such a role as Mansfield 
sought and coveted all the days of his crowded 
life, such a role as another Lionel might have 
envied him. The performance brought Atwill 
much applause and gave David Belasco no end 
of satisfaction. But, though it packed his the- 
ater from Christmas to June, it was so costly a 
venture that it lost him a king's ransom. 

As a background for this play it is worth while 
turning the dusty pages of forgotten memoirs to 
know a little better some of the people who come 
to life in its scenes. Victor Hugo, Georges Sand, 
Alfred de Musset — these pass in the procession. 
But more important and less familiar are two 
— Jean-Gaspard Deburau himself and Marie 
Duplessis. 



DEBURAU, PERE, GUITRY, FILS 173 

The elder Deburau came out of Poland, one 
of a nomad tribe of acrobats, clowns, and tight- 
rope walkers, who more than a century ago jour- 
neyed afoot as far as Amiens in vain quest of 
some weirdly rumored inheritance. In the play, 
Guitry has him thinking of the past as one in- 
terminable wire stretched across Europe, on which 
he seems to see his family forever walking, walk- 
ing, walking. Of the rest of this family there 
is no easy record, but in the thirties the boy sepa- 
rates out from this obscurity as the most famous 
of those great pantomimists who took the immi- 
grant zany of the old Italian harlequinades and 
wrought in him a strange transmutation. With 
the breath of their spirit this spoiled darling of 
the moon became not merely a wise fool. He be- 
came the wise fool in all of us, became the spirit 
of his age, became Paris itself. 

Only once did Deburau as Pierrot venture out- 
side the little playhouse in the Boulevard du 
Temple. That was when his far-spreading fame 
led to his invitation to the Palais-Royal stage, 
where his failure with the fashionable folk was 
abysmal- Not of such stuff were the fond patrons 
of the Funambules, who were the gamins and 
grisettes of the quarter, mixed with the stray 



174 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

cognoscenti who would understand. These sat 
enthralled before him till the day of his death, 
when his son Charles succeeded him in the great 
tradition. 

Marie Duplessis was that pale, fragile, ex- 
quisite courtesan of Deburau's time, who was born 
of a poor laundress and who died at twenty and 
of whom a curious counterfeit fame has survived 
because, among the many youthful lovers that 
chance threw in her way, was one called Alex- 
andre Dumas. After her death, while her grave 
in Montmartre Cemetery was still heaped with 
fresh camelias, some previously invisible relatives 
appeared suddenly on the scene and sold at public 
auction the beautiful tapestries and carvings and 
paintings which had filled her apartment opposite 
the Madeleine. There used to be a polite legend 
that among these Dumas, fils^ found the memor- 
abilia from which he wrought "La Dame aux 
Camelias," the famous mass of sentiment which 
was hawked about our theaters for so many dec- 
ades under the monstrous name of "Camille; or, 
the Fate of a Coquette." But Henry Bidou (that 
distinguished writer on theaters and war), in his 
recent series of articles on the work of the younger 
Dumas, describes bluntly his youthful devotion 



DEBURAU, PERE, GUITRY, FILS 175 

to Marie Duplessis, tells of the eventual interfer- 
ence by the elder Dumas, of how the young lover 
received from his father a fund of twenty-five 
louis to make a suitable and soothing parting gift 
and was then packed off to Spain, whence he did 
not return until after his lady had died. It is 
thus one of the interesting aspects of "Deburau" 
that it calls for the appearance of Camille as the 
serene girl she was and not as Dumas disguised 
her, certainly not as one who could, by any 
stretch of the imagination, be embodied, as so 
often she has been, by bulky emotional actresses 
in their declining years. 

Her reappearance in "Deburau" added a local 
interest to a curious paper on the Paris of 
its day which appeared in a contemporary issue 
of the "Mercure de France." It seems that when 
the author of "La Dame aux Camelias" died in 
1896, that magazine held a symposium as to his 
merits among the younger French writers, who 
proved almost unanimous in the conviction that 
as a writer he was no great shakes. This verdict, 
very annoying as it was to the devoted boule- 
vardiers, provoked from the "Figaro" a challenge 
to repeat the question after a calming and en- 
lightening interval of twenty-five years. When 



176 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

the twenty-five years were past, the "Mer- 
cure" regarded the present-day attitude toward 
the younger Dumas as so obviously adverse that 
a questionnaire was hardly worth the time and 
trouble. Which decision left space in the maga- 
zine for an elaborate historical essay by Johannes 
Gros on the last days of that pretty peasant girl 
from Normandy whose name was Alphonsine 
Plessis, who liked to call herself Marie Duplessis, 
and who after her death was immortalized, or at 
least made world-famous, under the name of 
Marguerite Gautier in the novel and play writ- 
ten by one of her lovers. In one of the most de- 
lightful books ever written — that tome of anony- 
mous reminiscence which appeared in the late 
eighties under the title of "An Englishman in 
Paris" — there is a considerable foot-note devoted 
to Marie, tracing her ancestry back through sev- 
eral generations of somewhat macabre amours in 
Normandy. 

The kind of patient and enthusiastic scholar- 
ship, the kind of passion for the unimportant, 
wherewith Gros reconstructed that almost for- 
gotten and essentially insignificant courtesan as a 
scientist reconstructs a dinosaur frcMn the most 
meager of osseous remains, recalls the earnest cul- 



DEBURAU, PERE, GUITRY, FILS 177 

ture of the student at Halle who spent three years 
on a thesis about the use of the indefinite article in 
Edmund Spenser. It is amazing to follow the 
care with which every lover, every creditor, every 
portrait painter (there were, it might amuse you 
to know, two portraits by the Norman painter 
named Charles Chaplin), every jewel, every fan, 
every detail of death and interment have been 
pursued through the old journals, letters, dossiers, 
and archives of that day. 

This interest but reflects the interest felt at the 
time and which was surprising enough even then 
■ — surprising certainly to one avid onlooker, 
Charles Dickens, who was then in Paris, and 
whose letters are full of the prevailing excitement. 
"For several days," he wrote the Comte d'Orsay, 
"all political, artistic and business questions have 
been dropped by the newspapers. Everything 
gives way to a much more important event, the 
romantic death of one of the glories of the demi- 
moride, the beautiful, the celebrated Marie 
Duplessis." You may be sure he attended the 
much-recorded sale of her effects, which scat- 
tered her possessions far and wide and even put 
under the hammer certain letters which escaped 
her own fireplace only to go up many years later 



178 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

in the smoke of the San Francisco fire. Said 
Dickens : 

"To see the general wonder and sorrow, you would 
have thought it concerned a hero or a Jeanne d'Arc. But 
the enthusiasm knew no bounds when Eugene Sue bought 
the courtesan's prayer book." 

How much greater would his surprise have 
been had he known that the interest would flare 
up again eighty years later in a foreign land I 
Yet he himself could not help sharing that 
interest. Nor can we. 

The first act of "Deburau" introduces a mute 
performance of "Marrchand d'Habits" — you 
might translate that as "Any Clo-o-othes^" — a 
pantomime to which Pierrot must play a role akin 
to that of Matthias in "The Bells." It is a night 
of painful agitation at the Funambules, for the 
players there have just glimpsed a copy of the 
"Journal des Debats" (the same journal, by the 
way, for which the aforesaid Monsieur Bidou is 
now dramatic critic) wherein Deburau is singled 
out among all the rest for adulation. At the 
stage-door are waiting certain impressionable 
ladies who would have words with him. But, as 
always in such cases, the frightened comedian 
contrives to talk of his little son and to show 



DEBURAU, PERE, GUITRY, FILS 179 

them his wife's portrait. He even tries to get 
rid of an embarrassing and anonymous floral 
tribute, utterly unaware that it is the timid offer- 
ing of the old box-office woman. He is headed 
dutifully for home when, in the shadow beside 
the theater, he comes face to face with Marie 
Duplessis. They are marching off together arm 
in arm as the curtain falls. 

The Second Act 

The scene is a week later at Mane's apartment. 
Deburau has been a half-jubilant, half-remorse- 
ful visitor pretty frequently ever since. It is he 
who christens her as the Lady with the Camelias, 
a name she promptly adopts as something alto- 
gether chic and unusual. When he pays a duty 
visit home, only to find that his wife has run 
away, he starts joyfully back, with his bird-cage 
tucked under his arm, leading his ten-year-old 
son with one hand and his little dog with the 
other, bent on laying them all at Marie's feet and 
spending the rest of his days in her radiant com- 
pany. But he finds her in the arms of a new lover, 
a handsome young fellow of her own age, and 
poor Deburau reads his sentence in her compas- 
sionate glance. Amid his startled apologies and 



i8o SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

adieus, you see her trying to introduce them, and 
as the curtain falls you hear her saying : 

"Jean-Gaspard Deburau — Monsieur Armand Duval." 

The Third Act 

The scene is seven years later in the garret 
where Deburau dwells with his son Charles^ now 
a strapping fellow of seventeen. Poor Deburau, 
sick in spirit and half sick in body, has been 
absent these six months from the cast at the 
Funambules. It is the more disturbing, there- 
fore, for him to learn that his son, who has always 
been his prompter and his most devoted audience, 
now aspires himself to play Pierrot and, with the 
callousness of youth, actually thinks of doing so 
under the name of Deburau. The elder puts his 
foot down hard, yet he knows uneasily that the 
boy has only to wait. It is crushing for the father 
to learn, too, that when, as he had daily hoped 
for seven years, Marie comes tripping in at last, 
she does so not as one keeping a tryst, but in the 
mood of a sympathetic Lady Bountiful, hoping 
to cheer him with her gay stories of how the bully- 
ing Duval, pere, had tried vainly to take her 
Armand from her, and determined to smuggle in 
a doctor who shall patch up her dear old friend 



DEBURAU, PERE, GUITRY, FILS 181 

and so restore him to the stage. It is the uncon- 
scious doctor, quite unaware of his disconsolate 
patient's identity, who really administers the 
magic medicine. No drugs, no blood-letting, will 
put the sick man on his feet, the doctor says. He 
must get up and out, must see nature and color 
and music and paintings — at all of which pre- 
scription Deburau makes a wry face. Well, then, 
the theater. Whereat Deburau laughs grimly. 
The very thing, persists the doctor. He should 
go to the best physicians in the world, the actors 
who can banish care and awaken a cleansing, 
healing laughter. He could not do better than 
go to the Funambules. W^hy, there was there, or 
had been until a short time ago, a mighty healer 
called Deburau — That is enough. Small won- 
der that, as the third act curtain falls, the old 
comedian is reaching for his hat and starting back, 
much uplifted, to the stage he had deserted. 

The Fourth Act 

The scene is that afternoon at the Funambules. 
Deburau is again on its stage, but, in the months 
of his retirement, something has gone out of him. 
He can no longer stir the old laughter and, know- 
ing this, he falters and blunders till, like a doom, 



i82 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

the first hiss is heard in the auditorium — a hiss 
caught up and echoed till the uproar takes on the 
sound of a crowd trampling something underfoot. 
The comedian steps forward and lifts a shaking 
hand for silence. It is breathless when they 
realize that, after many years, he will try at last 
to speak, that they are there on the night when 
the long-muted voice of Deburau will be heard at 
the Funambules. He does open his mouth, but 
no word comes. Then he falls back upon the only 
language he knows, the eloquent speech of panto- 
mime. In gestures he tells them how sick he has 
been, how sick he is, that he can no longer play 
for their delight, that this is his last appearance. 
He makes his excuses, speaks his farewell. As 
the tears streak down the now tragic white of his 
moon-face, he makes his last gesture, a kiss blown 
from the Funambules to the gamins of Paris. The 
curtain, by the chance of a breaking string, comes 
down like the knife of the guillotine. The cur- 
tain knew. 

The silent audience disperses silently. In the 
empty hall a moment later the excited manager 
is busy with the new playbills for the night, but 
it is Deburau who comes to tell them they need 
not bother to change the name of the Pierrot. In 



DEBURAU, PERE, GUITRY, FILS 183 

what follows, you see him leading forth his son 
as his successor, himself volunteering to step into 
the prompter's place in order that, just as there 
had always been a little of his son in his own 
work, so now there should be a little of himself 
in the work of his son. From his box of colors 
and grease, he makes up the boy for the night's 
performance, the boy sitting with his back to you, 
while with flying fingers and with the other 
players gathering curiously about the engrossed 
two, Deburau turns over to his son, in a long and 
beautiful speech which will be famous, the secret, 
the spirit, the philosophy of his craft. He holds 
before the wide-eyed, consecrated boy the prom- 
ised satisfaction that can come from hearty, care- 
banishing, brow-smoothing laughter. It is worth 
noting that this apologia for the role of the loustic 
in the regiment of life was spoken from Guitry's 
stage in Paris by Guitry himself in that black, 
anxious month of February, 1918, while Paris 
was -gritting her teeth and waiting for the last 
great German drive. 

WTien the speech is done and the boy turns 
round, you see he wears the white face and 
startled eyes of Pierrot. It is to such a one that 
the father, drawing him aside, whispers his last 



i84 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

counsel, his gospel of work and love, without 
either of which life is an empty thing. There 
is a final bustle of preparation as the exultant 
barker can be heard without, drumming up the 
audience for the night. "This way, ladies and 
gentlemen, this way! A new Deburau^ a young 
Deburau^ a handsome Deburau^ a better Debu- 
rau!" — a pean that visibly annoys the dethroned 
king and worries not a little the heir apparent. 
The troubled boy goes to him in unutterable 
sympathy. 

''It is not true !" he says. "Why, the man must 
be crazy!" 

Deburau shakes his head. 

"But, Father, how could I have your success 
in these roles of yours*?" 

"Why not*?" his father retorts with perhaps a 
little grimace of pain. "You never know. The 
public is so funny." 

Then, as the orchestra breaks into a gay march 
and the first spectators drift in from the boule- 
vards, the curtain falls on the play of "Deburau." 



XIII 
THE LEGEND OF 'TETER PAN" 

OUT of the Never Never Land, straight from 
the tree-tops where the fairies sleep at 
nights, there flew in through the high nursery 
window set at the back of the Empire stage in 
New York one clear November night the im- 
mortal boy who had run away from home the 
day that he was born. A welcome awaited him, 
and for a time it seemed as though there would 
be never a Christmas in New York without its 
"Peter Pan." It is not now among the prob- 
abilities that Maude Adams will ever again at- 
tempt the role which she made so peculiarly her 
own; and for a time the play is likely to gather 
dust, for it would be a reckless player who would 
venture soon among the clustering memories of 
those first performance. But down off the shelf 
pirates, Indians, crocodile, Nan, Liza, Slightly, 
Nibs, and all will climb again some day, and in 
the mists that shroud the seasons to come we see 
the shadow of no parting from Peter Fan. 

i8s 



i86 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Precious few plays written in the English lan- 
guage in the last fifty years are half so sure of a 
place in the theater of the twenty-first century 
as this airy fantasy by J. M. Barrie. 

This interval would be a good time for some 
one who knows, actually to write out for all of us 
the history of that play, not in scraps of news- 
paper comment, now here, now there, this season, 
last season, next season, but rather in a book of 
its own — "The Legend of 'Peter Pan.' " Once 
upon a time Louis Evans Shipman, editor of 
"Life," did publish a diverting volume that 
chronicled the adventures of a play of his. Now, 
"D'Arcy of the Guards" was neither a real suc- 
cess nor a real failure, but just one of the little 
sillies that are not sure what they are. The his- 
tory of "Peter Pan," however, will be an alto- 
gether happy story, working up from the strange 
days when, like the abandoned Tinker Bell, the 
play seemed to hang fearfully in the balance be- 
tween life and death, down to its last revival and 
the story of the service its royalties gave behind 
the lines in France. 

It was on the night of November 6, 1905, that 
"Peter Pan" was played for the first time in New 
.York. It had been produced triumphantly in 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 187 

London the year before, and quite a fever of ex- 
pectancy awaited its coming to America. The ar- 
resting poster with its "Do you believe in fairies'?" 
bedecked the bill-boards of Manhattan, and 
sleepy little messenger boys curled up in the cor- 
ner of the Empire lobby waiting all night for the 
beginning of the box-office sale. But the news 
from the road was disheartening. Washington 
evidently did not believe in fairies, and Buifalo 
was cold to "Peter Pan." On the opening night 
in New York, a polite and baffled audience 
laughed and applauded loyally — but at discon- 
certingly wrong moments. 

The author of "The Legend of Teter Pan' " 
— with whatever of reluctance or malice may 
color his disposition — must write one inexorable 
chapter devoted to the collapse of the New York 
reviewers. Some there were who responded gaily 
to the appeal of the play, but there were others 
who did not respond at all. Now listen to this 
oracle : 

Mr. Barrie, in the excess of his facetiousness, has 
seen fit once more to mystify his audience, and if "Peter 
Pan" fails to be a prolonged success here, the blame must 
be laid entirely at his door. It is not only a mystery 
but a great disappointment ... a conglomeration of 
balderdash, cheap melodrama and third-rate extrava- 



i88 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

ganza. From the beginning of its second act, it invari- 
ably challenges comparison with plays like "The Wizard 
of Oz" and "Babes in Toyland," and it fails to show 
either the sense of fun or childhood which made both 
pieces a delight to children of all ages. . . . For an 
artist of Maude Adams's standing, this play seems like 
a waste of time. And incidentally, if "Peter Pan" is a 
play at all, it is a very bad one. 

The most famous critic of them all, both a bet- 
ter and an older soldier, spoke half patronizingly 
of the piece and described it as a fantasy "that 
sometimes runs into puerility," while still another 
opined : 

Although its novelty will doubtless catch the town, 
you might imagine, after the charm of its delightful first 
act has worn off, that Mr. Barrie had finished "A Mid- 
summer Night's Dream" by getting up out of the wrojig 
side of the dramatic bed. 

It is amusing to remember that the first few 
enthusiasts who proselyted in the fortnight before 
the tide turned and the play began to win its 
way were regarded by some as pseudo-intellec- 
tuals, arrant poseurs, indeed, for all the world as 
though cheering for "Peter Pan" were like walk- 
ing down Piccadilly with a tulip or a lily in your 
medieval hand. 

"Where," asked one, "is the convincing spirit? 
Where is the illusion*? Where is the seductive 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 189 

charm to transport us away from this workaday 
world? 'Peter Pan' is diverting but is not satis- 
fying." 

Where indeed*? But the severest rebuke that 
was administered to the playwright appeared in 
"a morning newspaper" and contained these bitter 
reflections : 

"Peter Pan" is a riddle to which there is no answer; 
it baiBed a large and typical Maude Adams house last 
night. . . . His [Barrie's] ideas of childlike simplicity 
are ludicrous. They seem to be the fancies of a dis- 
ordered stomach. . . . With the best of intentions, it is 
quite impossible to see any artistic merit in "Peter Pan." 
Occasionally it suggested jim-jams but never the lucidity 
of mere dope. ... It was a pity to see Miss Adams, with 
her defightful gifts, wasting herself on such drivel. 

Well, the third-rate extravaganza celebrated its 
tenth anniversary with no signs of mortality; the 
fancies of a disordered stomach have rejoiced 
more than a thousand audiences in America. The 
Smee^ the Jukes^ and the Captain Hook among 
the unbelievers have been pushed into the sea, 
and on its tenth anniversary was it fancy that 
the sound the wind brought from the Empire was 
the crowing of Peter triumphant"? 

But the critics were not alone in their miscon- 
struction of the play. Few, if any, read its rosy 



190 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

future, and it is gravely to be doubted if Barrie 
himself dreamed at the start that his piece about 
the boy who would n't grow up would bring him 
more money than any other play he had ever 
written. This must be all set forth, of course, 
in the chapter on origins, where one page will tell 
how the play grew from a section of "The Little 
White Bird" (just as "A Kiss for Cinderella" 
grew later from another page) and where another 
will tell how he found the names. Wendy, for 
instance, was what Henley's little girl used to 
call Barrie in her sincere effort to call him 
"Friend." In the chapter on origins it must be 
told, too, how Barrie at first regarded "Peter Pan'* 
as Hook's play. That is why he took it to His 
Majesty's before he took it to the Duke of York's. 
He had in his mind the vision of a pirate the like 
of which had never been seen on stage or quarter- 
deck, so he planned the role of Hook for Sir 
Herbert Tree. 

"Barrie has gone out of his mind, Frohman,'* 
Tree said. "I am sorry to say it; but you ought 
to know it. He 's just read me a play. He is 
going to read it to you, so I am warning you. I 
know I have not gone woozy in my mind, because 
I have tested myself since hearing the play; but 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 191 

Barrie must be mad. He has written four acts 
all about fairies, children, and Indians running 
through the most incoherent story you ever 
listened to; and what do you suppose? The last 
act is to be set on top of trees." 

And long afterward Tree, in becoming sack- 
cloth and ashes, told at a dinner how he in after 
years would have to be known as the manager 
who had refused "Peter Pan," nor did it subtract 
from the pain of confession that it was misunder- 
stood, and next day he had to explain he had 
scarcely been seeking to convey that it was the 
role of Feter for which Mr. Barrie had intended 
him. 

Indeed, "Peter Pan" in London is already in 
its anecdotage. One of the best stories clinging 
to it is that which tells of the English player 
who had had some success in one of its roles and 
who, on the eve of the annual revival, went to 
Barrie with the bold request that he be "fea- 
tured" in the playbills. "And what would 'fea- 
turing* be?" asked Barrie, cautiously. Whereat 
the actor, growing expansive under this show of 
interest, explained in detail that, while scarcely 
hoping to be starred, he did aspire to have his 
name separated from the lesser folk of the com- 



192 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

pany by a large, preliminary "AND." "AND?" 
said Barrie. "Why not BUT*?" 

There must follow an account of the Barrie 
manuscript which has never been published, the 
curious script with its striking contrasts, the most 
amazing flights of fancy, the most delicate gossa- 
mer of playful writing from charming Barrie, fol- 
lowed by the most prosaic and most mechanically 
exact of stage directions from canny Barrie, 
wherein is planned every detail of the immensely 
complicated machinery for putting "Peter Pan" 
upon the stage. Here would be printed the miss- 
ing scene, Marooner's Rock or the Mermaid's 
Lagoon, a scene long omitted from the play as 
performed, but which would seem to have sup- 
plied to Frohman the "great adventure" line 
wherewith the little manager made his big exit 
from the stage. 

Then there would have to be a chapter headed 
"The Professor's Love Story," for that would 
tell the tale of how Barrie came to be a play- 
wright at all. That placid and extremely senti- 
mental comedy, which first the late E. S. Willard 
and later George Arliss played in America, is not 
an especially good play and, what is more, not 
especially Barriesque in its twists or its flavor. It 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 193 

was a comedy written by Barrie before he learned 
how (or found the courage) just to "play him- 
self" in the theater. Just as Wilde, sauntering 
through the stage-door for the first time, uncon- 
sciously felt called upon to behave like other 
playwrights (Sardou in particular), so it did not 
occur to Barrie to let his fancy play over his own 
materials, to let his humor and pathos find ex- 
pression in any other patterns than the conven- 
tional ones of the day, when the theater was still 
fragrant with "Sweet Lavender." Groping his 
way in the unaccustomed darkness back-stage, it 
was natural enough for him to try first to use the 
properties accumulated there. "The Importance 
of Being Earnest" was not Wilde's first play, nor 
his second; and in the same way Barrie, imlike 
Dunsany and Chesterton, did not immediately 
set to work to create his own properties, his own 
devices, his own idiom. 

It was toward the close of 1892 that "The Pro- 
fessor's Love Story" was presented "for the first 
time on any stage," at the old Star Theater, which 
stood down at Thirteenth Street and Broadway, 
New York. How really long ago that was may 
best be suggested by turning to the yellowed files 
of "The Times" and noting in the head-lines of 



194 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

its review of the play the discerning description 
of Barrie as "a dramatist of rare promise." 

For "The Professor's Love Story" was timidly 
and laboriously contrived when the gentle Scot, 
a man of thirty, was a new-comer among the play- 
wrights. Several times he had turned frcxn the 
"Auld Licht Idyls" and the first chronicles of 
Thrums to try his hand at writing for the theater, 
but the results had not been encouraging and he 
had no great reputation of any sort when he 
finished his romance of Professor GoodwilUe and 
set forth on his round of the actor-managers of 
the day. He had just emerged from what he likes 
to call his younger and happiest days, when what- 
ever he got out of life he got by writing. Then 
a new chair or a new etching meant a new article 
to pay for it, and when the coveted thing arrived 
the piece that had made it possible was promptly 
pasted on the back. Barrie's name was no open 
sesame in those days, and had England been at 
war then he could not, out of his own pocket, have 
supported a single cot, let alone a complete hos- 
pital, in France. But that 's telling. 

With "The Professor's Love Story" under his 
arm, he went first to Irving, who was kind and 
let him read the play aloud. And though Irving 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 195 

did not seem possessed to accept it, he did pave 
the way to John Hare with a letter of introduc- 
tion. Hare was more forbidding and insisted 
on reading to himself the manuscript, which was 
engrossed in a mystical handwriting that only 
Feter Pan and Tinker Bell could have deciphered. 
Furthermore, on the plea that it made him nerv- 
ous, Hare would not keep the agitated playwright 
at hand as an interpreter, but sternly banished 
him to the anteroom to await the verdict. He 
did not have to wait long, for the verdict came 
almost immediately. It came in the form of 
groans, roars, and imprecations from within, and 
there the startled Barrie found that the great Mr. 
Hare, utterly baffled by the handwriting, had 
sought relief for his emotions by hurling the 
script to the floor and leaping up and down upon 
it. After this depressing incident, Barrie had a 
fairer transcript of his comedy prepared, and took 
it to E. S. Willard. In the bottom of one of 
Willard's cavernous trunks, along with many 
other scripts by other men, it then set forth for 
America. 

It was in 1920 that Barrie's cryptic handwrit- 
ing suddenly became legible. Startled friends 
made anxious inquiry only to find that because of 



196 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

an attack of neuritis in his right arm, he was learn- 
ing to write with his left hand. Indeed, he wrote 
"Mary Rose" with his left hand and some say 
that accounted for it. But that is another story. 
Willard, in the first four seasons of the nineties, 
played only in the United States, and it was in 
the last week of an engagement at the Star in 
December, 1892, that he produced "The Pro- 
fessor's Love Story." On the spur of the moment, 
and with no more than six rehearsals, it was 
pitched on in place of Tennyson's "The Cup." 
Willard, of course, was Professor Goodwillie. 
The Lucy was Marie Burroughs and Lady Gild- 
ing was a young and lustrous beauty named 
Maxine Elliott. By that time every one, even in 
America, had read or was reading Barrie's most 
celebrated novel, "The Little Minister," and an 
eager audience awaited his first play to reach New 
York. The sale was large though it was that 
nightmare of the managers' existence, the week 
before Christmas, in the days before the "Do your 
shopping early" slogan had taken the fine frenzy 
out of the season. The success on the first night 
was unmistakable, and during the curtain speech 
there was thunderous applause when Mr. Willard 
asked if he might cable to the author in England 
that his play had won the day. 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 197 

If such a message was ever sent it must have 
gone astray, for the first tidings Barrie had of his 
play's reception, or, indeed, of its having been 
produced at all, came in the form of a friendly 
and exploratory note from a stranger in New 
York, one Charles Frohman, who felicitated him 
on "The Professor's Love Story," and inclosed, 
by way of introduction, the picture of a young 
and extremely insignificant actress, of whom he 
had hopes and for whom, he hoped, Mr. Barrie 
would some day write a play. That note was the 
beginning of the memorable friendship between 
Frohman and Barrie, and the picture was a photo- 
graph of Maude Adams. It was Barrie's first 
glimpse of the woman who in the years that lay 
ahead was to interpret for America, was to be for 
America his Fhcebe Throssell, his Leonora, his 
Maggie Wylie, his Babbie, and his Peter Fan. 
That picture, the photograph of a young Maude 
Adams with a little round button of an 1892 hat 
insecurely perched on the top of her head, still 
stands on the mantel shelf in Barrie's study at 3 
Adelphi Terrace, sharing that small altar with a 
portrait of Margaret Ogilvie, the original manu- 
script of Henley's "Invictus," and an unconscion- 
able number of pipes. 

By the time "Peter Pan" came along, Barrie 



198 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

was known the world around, and yet even then 
the critics struggled feebly. What eluded their 
stiff calipers was doubtless that quality which the 
discerning John Corbin recognized at once, its 
dual mood of innocence and knowledge. You 
will go quite mad if you try to decide whether 
the play is for children or for grown-ups. You 
see, it 's for both, with something in it for each. 
"Peter Pan" is not children at play, but an old 
man smiling — and smiling a little sadly — as he 
watches children at play. 

And the children love it. There will have to 
be a chapter about the "Peter Pan" audiences, 
and you have never really seen the play if you 
have not attended a matinee. You must see the 
miniature playgoers straining in their seats, break- 
ing the nurse's leash and swarming incontinently 
down the aisles. You must see them in the boxes, 
looking in the perfection of their faith, as if at 
any moment they might attempt to fly out across 
the auditorium. You must hear their often em- 
barrassingly premature rally to the defense of 
Tinker Bell and hear the shout that occasionally 
threatens to break up the proceedings, as when a 
passionately interested Michael on the wrong side 
of the footlights cries out in friendly warning: 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 199 

"Watch out, Peter, watch out ! The old parrot's 
poisoned your medicine." 

The historian must tell of the little folks wait- 
ing gravely at the stage-door to ask for thimbles, 
and maybe he will have access to the countless 
letters to Peler that have come in, heavy with 
pennies sent trustfully to buy a pinch of fairy 
dust, which is so necessary if you have forgotten 
how to fly. 

But the dearest friends of Peter Fan are among 
the oldest living inhabitants. Austere jurists, 
battered rounders, famous editors and famous 
playwrights, slightly delirious poets and out- 
wardly forbidding corporation presidents, these 
are in the ranks of the devoted. You simply can- 
not recognize a Peter Pantheist at sight, but when 
you find him reappearing at each engagement you 
can begin to guess his heart is in the right place. 

It would be idle to pretend that everybody likes 
the play, but its own public is large and so shame- 
lessly addicted to it that a dozen visits to the 
theater are as nothing. There are some of us who 
cannot hear the opening strains of the music, who 
cannot witness the first inordinately solemn ap- 
pearance of the responsible Liza, without feeling 
an absurd desire to laugh and weep at the same 



200 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

time, who cannot watch Peter take his silent stand 
on guard outside the house they built for Wendy 
without a sense of exaltation that warms the heart 
and sends us fair uplifted to our homes. 

"The Legend of Teter Pan' " must have a 
whole section devoted to those who have played 
in it. There have been successive broods of chil- 
dren, some leaving in the spring quite perfect in 
their parts, but reappearing sheepish in the 
autumn, so grown up that there is no using them. 
There has been a line of adorable Lizas, one in 
particular who enslaved all the company and kept 
them busy between scenes devising blandishments 
to win her favor. There is the story of her part 
in a New England tour when some of the May- 
flower descendants — we are, as Feter observes, 
nearly all of us descendants — who made a point 
of looking shocked when they trailed through the 
private car that carried the jolly "Peter Pan" 
company. The pirates were peacefully playing 
poker, and just to give the strangers something 
to be really scandalized about, they set little Liza 
at the table, piled some chips before her, and put 
into her hands a deal of cards at which she gazed 
with such intense gravity that the dear New Eng- 
landers had a delightful attack of the horrors. 



THE LEGEND OF 'TETER PAN" 201 

There must be due account of the annual 
*'Peter Pan" engagement at the Duke of York's 
and of the actresses — Nina Boucicault, Cissie 
Loftus, Georgette Cohan, and Pauline Chase — 
who have played Peter in London. 

There must be one long chapter of which the 
heading will be simply "Maude Adams." The 
legend of "Peter Pan" is in part the story of the 
winsome woman who alone has played the part 
in America. Barrie and Maude Adams are twin 
spirits that have worked in charm for the pleasure 
of unnumbered thousands. His humor is her 
humor, and the rueful strain in the best of Barrie 
matched the little wistfulness which made so 
gentle the great gaiety of her playing. 

And, because it was derived from the same 
source-book of all Barrieisms, "The Little White 
Bird," there would have to be a chapter set aside 
for some account of that even more delicate and 
wistful Barrie play, "A Kiss for Cinderella," 
which, like "Peter Pan," was played in America 
by Maude Adams and which, until he wrote "The 
Old Lady Shows Her Medals," was saddest of 
all his writings for the theater. 

For those of us who at "Peter Pan" feel a cer- 
tain unconquerable chokiness, which lasts until 



202 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Feter waves good-by from his house in the sway- 
ing tree-tops, it is difficult to weigh the pathos of 
"A Kiss for Cinderella." It seems to be com- 
pounded of one part laughter and three parts un- 
shed tears. Its recipe is secret, but its source is 
unmistakable. If you stop to think about it, you 
cannot doubt for a moment that the little Miss 
Thing who pretends she is Cinderella is our old 
friend lre7ie^ sometime Nursemaid Extraordinary 

to David A , in the purlieus of Kensington 

Gardens. 

Barrie's Cinderella is a little drudge whose 
name is Jane and who is vaguely and scornfully 
set down on the program as Miss Thing. She pre- 
tends she is Cinderella so that she may transform 
her bleak existence by the brave day-dreams that 
— luckily for her — are more real to her than life 
itself. She comes out of the slums of London — 
not far from Drury Lane, you wager — where, with 
her watering-can, she has carefully brought her- 
self up. Her speech is cockney, but — in honor 
of Thrums — there is a Scotch forebear somewhere, 
for the fine Scotch words and phrases still stick 
to her like bits of egg-shell to a chicken. By day 
she does the cleaning in a studio building for one- 
and-seven a week. She could see her way clearer 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 203 

if it were one-and-nine, but it is one-and-seven. 
By night she presides over a slum hostel of her 
own, a shanty Penny Friend which she calls 
Celeste et Cie., a shining name copied from some 
grand shop-window in Bond Street. There she 
will fit you or shave you or dose you for a penny, 
and there, in mysterious home-made cradles, she 
shelters four orphan babies. Cinderella is the sort 
to do her bit in war time, and all the hospitals 
had coldly declined her services as a nurse. She 
has a bluejacket's baby and a French baby, and a 
Belgian baby, and if you must know, a baby 
named Gretchen whom she vainly tries to pass off 
as a Swiss, but who bites the policeman and in- 
dulges in other forms of Schrecklichkeit^ such as 
sticking out her tongue. Cinderella is a stout 
patriot and in panicky fear of arrest for conceal- 
ing an alien, but Gretchen had been left over and 
she was the littlest of all. So she had no choice. 
■ And there each night, after the penny customers 
have gone, she tells the children the story of 
Cinderella they all knew in their own nurseries, 
whatever their home and whatever their tongue. 
So thoroughly are tjiey persuaded she is Ci7iderella 
that she feels desperately her powers of make- 
believe will be exhausted if the invite to the ball 



204 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

does not come pretty soon. So, when the tired, 
underfed, feverish, valiant little drudge goes to 
sleep that night in the street while she is waiting 
for the fairy godmother that never comes, it is 
small wonder that her delirium transports her to 
the ball. 

It is a wonderful dream and a wonderful ball, 
a scene of glory staged by Cinderellds imagina- 
tion and limited only by the pathetic range of her 
experience. Everything is golden. On golden 
rocking-chairs the king and queen (from a dingy 
pack of cards) hold court and later dispense ice- 
cream in golden cones from a golden push-cart. 
It is not Cinderella' s fault that when she wants 
to create a sumptuous largesse she can think of 
nothing more festive — heaven forgive us all — 
than a pompous and possibly political charity 
hand-out. You know where she caught those 
phrases which the king, in a surprising White- 
chapel accent, delivers benevolently from his 
throne : 

My loyal subjects, all 'ail! I am as proud of you as 
you are of me. It gives me and my good lady much 
pleasure to see you 'ere by special invite, feasting at our 
expense. There is a paper bag for each, containing two 
sandwiches, buttered on both sides ; a piece of cake, a 
hard-boiled egg, and an apple or banana. 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 205 

Then comes Cinderella. The glory of her com- 
ing she had foreseen, and to the children on many 
a weary night described it all in words like these : 

There are blasts on the trumpet and loud roars. Make 
way for the Lady Cinderella. That 's what you 're called 
at royal balls. Then loud huzzas is heard from outside 
from the excited popu-lace. For by this time the fame 
of my beauty has spread like wildfire through the streets 
and folks is hanging out at windows and climbing lamp- 
posts to catch a sight of me. 

So it is she arrives in her dream. Then there 
is the contest with the rival beauties for the hand 
and heart of the prince (who strangely resembles 
Our Foliceman). You may be sure she vanquishes 
them all, Carmencita^ Mona Lisa, the Duchess of 
Devonshire, the Girl imth the Muff, even Greuze's 
lovely girl with the broken pitcher, beauties all 
from the studio wall she had dusted that day. 
Fairer they may be, but have they perfect feet? 
And what are uppers without perfect feet? What, 
indeed? 

So Cinderella and the prince are married by the 
bishop-penguin, and they are all dancing like 
street children to the music of the hurdy-gurdies 
when the stroke of midnight brings the dream to 
an end and Cinderella wakes in a hospital. An 
angel in streamers is standing there with a boiled 



2o6 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

egg on a tray. Cinderella thinks at first it is the 
egg you always get with your tea in the work- 
house the day before you die; but there is no work- 
house for Barrie's Cinderella. Rather is she 
swamped by the attentions of the adoring con- 
valescent Tommies, but she waits for Our Police- 
man. She has a letter from him which, in her 
poor opinion, is nothing less than a love-letter. 
See, he has said: "There are thirty-four police- 
men sitting in this room, but I would rather have 
you, my dear." And when he comes, this ro- 
mantical policeman, and proposes (twice, at her 
request), she accepts him in radiant words she had 
composed and memorized in the dreary days when 
her only light was just the valiant hope that some 
day out of somewhere a prince would come along. 
It was a bit she had been "keeping handy" — bless 
her. 

It is this valiant quality in Cinderella that wins 
us utterly. She is so preposterously gay and 
and perky in her "brave apparel of the very poor." 
She is so absurdly cheerful when she has no 
earthly business to be. It is this spiritual valiance 
— the essential thing in the play — that Miss 
Adams expressed to your heart's content. Others 
in the company — notably Norman Trevor (whose 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 207 

performance was uncommonly fine), Morton 
Selten, and Robert Peyton Carter — were all you 
could ask, but in the hands of Maude Adams was 
the heart of the matter. Long ago the felicitous 
Arthur Ruhl wrote of "the dauntless frailty of 
Maude Adams." It is the dauntless frailty of 
Cinderella that almost breaks your heart. 

Here once more is the unutterable pathos of 
those who have to imagine their happiness or go 
without. Barrie may have taken a leaf out of 
"The Poor Little Rich Girl" for his dream scene, 
but the idea of his play is the idea of that pen- 
sive comedy, "The Phantom Rival," and of that 
pitiful tragedy, " 'Op-o'-my-Thumb," which 
Miss Adams played here and which, not by coin- 
cidence, was played in London by Hilda Trevel- 
yan. " 'Op-o'-my-Thumb," you remember, tells 
the story of the little laundry drudge who has a 
splendid romance with an imaginary lover which 
lasts until the guiltless lay-figure for this creation 
chances to cross her path and dispel the illusion. 
It is the end of her day-dreams. She can pretend 
no more, and you leave her huddled there under 
the laundry table, a tragic figure, sobbing bitterly. 
Things come about more happily for Cinderella. 

Of course, Cinderella is maternal. In that she 



2o8 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

is more thoroughly a Barrie heroine than Babbie 
herself. Rather does she belong with Elspelk, 
Maggie Wylie^ Wendy^ and Irene^ sisters all of 
Margaret Ogilvie^ who used to laugh till she wept 
because her wonderful son could not keep her out 
of his books. Cinderella, then, is one of the 
mothers of the world. She wants to take care of 
everybody. She is forever brushing the ashes off 
the artist in the studio. Her first impulse at the 
sight of that romantical policeman is to run. The 
next is to stay and clean his belt — with spit. She 
is intensely jealous of the Venus de Milo, for all 
her large feet, but she is inclined to be scornful of 
the theory that that marble lady ever held a baby 
in her arms. 

"If I had lost my baby, I would n't have been 
found with that pleased look on my face, not in a 
thousand years," she avers. 

The artist ventures that when her arms were 
broken, she might have had to drop the baby. 

*'She could have up with her knee and ketched 
it," says Cinderella. 

So now you know why the knee of Venus is 
thrust forward. It is a characteristic Barrie touch, 
as characteristic as the hominess of Cinder- 
ella. 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 209 

"You can't be with her many minutes," the 
artist swears, "before you begin thinking of your 
early days." 

Small wonder then that Our 'Policeman is un- 
easy when he finds himself talking immediately 
of his childhood in Badgery, and no wonder at all 
that before the play is done he finds the heart of 
him crying out to walk with her by Badgery 
Water. 

For that is the romance that comes at last to 
the little waif that first walked into Barrie's pages 
years ago in a volume of forgotten short stories, 
now hopelessly out of print. The first was an en- 
chanting thing called "Two of Them" and the 
second was "The Inconsiderate Waiter," wherein, 
if memory serves, a little girl stood recklessly in 
the street beneath his club window and signaled 
to him that his waiter's wife was better that day 
and conveyed, by astonishingly graphic panto- 
mime, the further information that she had eaten 
all the tapiocar. 

"The Inconsiderate Waiter" became, in time, 
a chapter in "The Little White Bird," and Irene^ 
disporting an outrageous bonnet Barrie had 
bought her in an off moment, became David^s 
nursemaid in Kensington Gardens. Read a page 



210 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

or two and you can see how clearly she was the 
inspiration for "A Kiss for Cinderella": 

As you shall see, I invented many stories for David, 
practising the telling of them by my fireside as if they 
were conjuring feats, while Irene knew only one, but 
she told it as never has any other fairy-tale been told 
in my hearing. It was the prettiest of them all, and was 
recited by the heroine. 

"Why were the king and queen not at home?" David 
would ask her breathlessly. 

"I suppose," said Irene, thinking it out, "they was 
away buying the victuals." 

She always told the story gazing into vacancy, so that 
David thought it was really happening somewhere up 
the Broad Walk, and when she came to its great mo- 
ments, her little bosom heaved. Never shall I forget 
the concentrated scorn with which the prince said to 
the sisters, "Neither of you ain't the one what wore the 
glass slipper." 

"And then — and then — and then — " said Irene, not 
artistically, to increase the suspense, but because it was 
all so glorious to her. 

"Tell me — tell me quick," cried David, though he 
knew the tale by heart. 

"She sits down like," said Irene, trembling in second 
sight, "and she tries on the glass slipper; and it fits 
her to a T and then the prince, he cries in a ringing 
voice, 'This here is my true Love, Cinderella, what now 
I makes my lawful wedded wife.' " 

Then she would come out of her dream and look round 
at the grandees of the Gardens with an extraordinary 
elation. "Her, as was only a kitchen drudge," she would 
say in a strange, soft voice and with shining eyes, "but 
was true and faithful in word and deed, such was her 
reward." 



THE LEGEND OF "PETER PAN" 211 

I am sure that, had the fairy godmother appeared 
just then and touched Irene with her wand, David would 
have been interested rather than astonished. As for 
myself, I believe I have surprised this little girl's secret. 
She knows there are no fairy godmothers nowadays, but 
she hopes that if she is always true and faithful she may 
some day turn into a lady in word and deed, like the 
mistress whom she adores. 

It is a dead secret, a Drury Lane child's romance ; but 
what an amount of heavy artillery will be brought to 
bear against it in this sad London of ours. Not so much 
chance for her, I suppose. 

Good luck to you, Irene. 

And good luck to you^ Cinderella. Mr. Bodie 
is right. We can't be with you many minutes 
before we begin thinking of our early days. 



XIV 
IT WAS "TRILBY" 

THERE may in time to come be another play 
that will cause the hubbub which "Trilby" 
stirred in America, the sense of expectancy and 
the general impression that any one who had not 
seen it the night before was at least planning to 
see it the next afternoon. It is probably true that 
^'Within the Law" and "Peg o' My Heart" 
reached more audiences in the end, and it is cer- 
tainly true that the dramatizer of "Trilby" re- 
ceived nothing like the $750,000 which has 
already been paid in royalties to the author of 
"Peg." But in its simpler and less obstructed day 
the play made from Du Maurier's novel was sim- 
ply prodigious. Certainly no such success was 
ever scored by a play so hastily, so unimagina- 
tively, and so artlessly put together. For it was 
carried along not by its own strength, but like a 
cork on the wave of that unprecedented and since 
unequaled enthusiasm which was the portion of 

Du Maurier's fascinating story in America. 

212 



IT WAS ^TRILBY" 213 

**Trilby" was a best-seller and something more. 
It was more than a favorite. It was a craze, an 
obsession. America was "Trilby" mad. 

"There have been subsequent books which have 
far outstripped 'Trilby' in the matter of sales." 
Thus some one — doubtless Mr. Maurice himself 
— writing in "The Bookman" a year or so ago: 
"Yet when regarded from all points, the story, 
introducing Miss O'Ferrall^ the Three Musketeers 
of the Brushy and the sinister Svengali^ is the most 
complete literary success of any book written in 
the English language in the last quarter of a cen- 
tur}^" 

When 3'ou realize how rarely you see a copy 
of the story on the casual book-shelf, how few the 
new-comers to the libraries and stalls who ever 
ask for "Trilby," it is hard to believe it was only 
twenty-five years ago that everybody was reading 
it — literally everybody. Small boys in knee- 
breeches devoured it ; dear old ladies, who had 
never heard of the Ouartier Latin in all their 
blessed days, pored over its pages with infinite 
relish. It was read and enjoyed by the critical 
and the uncritical. You heard its names and 
phrases on every side. 

Svengali was then and is still the best known 



214 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

character in modern English fiction — with the pos- 
sible exception of Sherlock Holmes. And just as 
the great sleuth of Baker Street is a familiar name 
and figure even to our unhappy fellow-creatures 
who know nothing of a detective story's fascina- 
tion, so Svengali and the other folk of "Trilby" 
were at least acquaintances of those who had never 
gone so far as to buy or borrow a copy of Du 
Maurier's book. 

There was simply no escaping them. It was 
Trilby this and Trilby that. There were Trilby 
hats and of course there were Trilby shoes. Trios 
of young men rather liked the idea of so dressing 
and promenading arm in arm that passers-by on 
the avenue would catch a suggestion of the Three 
Musketeers of the Brush. "Trilby" was read 
aloud in drawing-rooms — to music. There were 
Trilby tableaux of painful memory. There were 
"songs and scenes" from "Trilby." This restau- 
rant sold Trilby sausages, and that confectioner 
served his ice-cream from a mold that aspired to 
the lines of Trilby s left foot. Virginia Harned, 
the first actress to play the role anywhere, used 
to tell of finding on the menu one day no less a 
dish than pigs'-feet a la Trilby. 

There were burlesques without end, from Her- 



IT WAS 'TRILBY" 21 j 

bert's "Trilby" at the Garrick, with a monstrous 
Svengali who could hypnotize even the table on 
which he afterward died like an overlarge and ani- 
mated doily, to the "Twilbe" the art students 
gave at the Academy in Philadelphia in the days 
when such temporary Thespians as C. M. Wil- 
liamson and Everett Shinn could be impressed — 
probably without much of a struggle — into the 
cast and the Gecko was Glackens (W. J.) 

If you rushed for surcease to the circus, you 
found a Trilby riding bareback with a particularly 
venomous Svengali cracking the whip. Were you 
a patron of the Dime Museum in Eighth Avenue? 
Then you were asked to select and vote on the 
handsomest of "Twenty Trilbys — Twenty." 
There were sermons on "Trilby," and there is the 
actual record of a Trilby Coterie and Chowder 
Club, of which other detail than the name has 
passed mercifully into oblivion. Out in Denver 
some one tried desperately to make off with the 
play on the unsubstantial grounds that it was a 
mere adaptation of Nodier's old "Lutin d'Argail," 
and on the other side of Brookl}Ti Bridge, in 
the midst of a family discussion on the morals of 
"Trilby," a woman went so far as to break her 
husband's head. 



2i6 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Such was the vogue of a book that interested 
with its story, aroused curiosity by means of hyp- 
notism, and fascinated with its engaging account 
of the Paris Du Maurier knew and loved, with its 
happy picture of the gay, brave camaraderie of 
the life in the rickety studio overlooking the Place 
St. Anatole des Arts. At the time there were those 
who predicted that the life of the book would be 
brief; there are those who say now that it has 
gone forever to the limbo of forgotten stories, 
along with "David Harum" and "Richard Car- 
vel" and "Janice Meredith." But there are some 
of us who suspect that the future holds out for 
Du Maurier' s most famous novel the promise of 
another life, though in some bosoms, I must ad- 
mit, there seems to burn no ember of the old en- 
thusiasm. I myself was all aglow one afternoon 
when I came upon the original scripts of "Trilby" 
and "Peter Ibbetson" in the manuscript-room of 
the Morgan Library, shelved there side by side 
with the portfolios which contain all the dear, 
remembered drawings their author did to illus- 
trate them. I tried at once to recruit as a fellow- 
witness of these glories no less a person than Amy 
Lowell, who was delving enviously near by in 
some Keats manuscripts. "O Miss Lowell," I 



IT WAS "TRILBY" 217 

said, ''would n't it thrill you a little just to hold 
the manuscript of 'Trilby' in your hands ^'* 
"No," said Miss Lowell severely, "it would n't." 

But when the book was new she was out- 
weighed. "Trilby" possessed the country. 

Riding on such a tide. Potter's dramatization 
could hardly have failed of success. And for a 
time — not a particularly long time — it knew 
enormous popularity. At one period there were 
no less than nine companies touring under one 
management. 

The production was A. M. Palmer's. He had 
precious little faith in it and was quite discon- 
solate throughout the period of rehearsal. It is 
often told of Du Maurier that he himself had had 
no faith in his ability or chances as a novelist 
when, after a long and busy life as a draftsman, he 
turned his pen to the writing of stories. Indeed, 
he tried to give the plot of "Trilby" to Henry 
James, and even when the book was done he non- 
chalantly disposed of the dramatic rights for a 
consideration of £50. They were returned to him, 
however, as part of the generosity he experienced 
from the hands of his American publishers. 

The success of his play was established at its 
first night. That was in Boston, and the first New 



2i8 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

York performance followed within six weeks. 
The premiere was a box-office triumph. There 
was such a crowd that Beerbohm Tree had to be 
content with a gallery box, from which, doubt- 
less, he almost fell in the abstraction of plan- 
ning his own version of Svengali's death for 
the Haymarket. There was so much excitement 
that Virginia Harned made her first exit through 
a window instead of a door, thus treating an 
enraptured audience to the spectacle of her de- 
parture across the Latin Quarter house-tops. It 
was lots of fun. 

There were some good names, by the way, in 
that cast Mr. Palmer assembled. Here it is as to 
the more important roles : 

Taffy Burr Mcintosh 

The Laird John Glendinning 

Little Billee Alfred Hickman 

Svengali Wilton Lackaye 

Gecko Robert Paton Gibbs 

Zou-Zou Leo Ditrichstein 

Trilby Virginia Harned 

Madame Vinard Mathilde Cottrelly 

Zou-Zou was Mr. Ditrichstein's first conspicu- 
ous hit — the real beginning of an interesting 
career. The memory of his "Oh, la-la-la-la I" 
still clings to him. It was part of his part to bring 



IT WAS "TRILBY" 219 

flowers to the dying Trilby, and when, after some 
weeks, he took to substituting for the florist's 
nightly boutonniere some blossoms cut from 
plants kept in his wilting dressing-room, they be- 
gan gradually to deteriorate and finally, in the 
midst of Trilby's fourth-act pathos, Miss Hamed 
whispered to him: "These are getting rottener 
every evening." It threatened to disrupt the per- 
formance and Zou-Zou still likes to tell of the 
night Trilby almost died of laughing instead of 
dying of heart disease and Svengali. 

Beerbohm Tree did Svengali in London, and 
out of the incredible profits of that venture he 
built for himself His Majesty's Theater, the 
same great playhouse which, through the acciden- 
tal circumstance that he had mistrustfully leased 
it to a play called "Mecca" on the eve of his 
death, bequeathed to his family an immense for- 
tune, for all Tree's own prodigal and magnificent 
ways. The play became a tradition in the Tree 
family, and all his children give occasional evi- 
dences of having been brought up on it. I remem- 
ber once when Delysia was singing "Malbrouck'* 
in London I made conversation by saying to Viola 
Tree, "That was Trilby's song." It did not make 
very good conversation, for she answered coldly. 



220 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

"No, it was n*t," and in the ensuing discussion ex- 
plained that she had played Trilby and ought to 
know. We wagered, I remember, a set of Henry 
James's letters on the question. I was firm and 
told her I could turn to the very page of the book 
on which, in scattered stanzas, the song unfolded. 
"Oh," said Miss Tree, a little taken aback, and I 
gathered that she meant thereby that she had for- 
gotten there ivas a book before the play. I have 
yet to receive the Henry James letters. 

In the first London cast Gerald Du Maurier, 
then a young actor in his third season on the 
stage, played Gecko. Tree was forever reviving 
it, as, I fancy, Lackaye would have done here had 
he, too, been an actor-manager, with his own say 
in the theater. Indeed, when a communistically 
organized company of actors assembled late in 
1921 under the name of the National Players and 
invaded New York with the promise of a consid- 
erable repertory of plays, it was observed with 
some amusement that they elected to start off 
with "Trilby." Lackaye was a member of that 
company, and it required no vast amount of in- 
sight to imagine the first meeting of the National 
Players, the first tentative question, "Well, what 
shall we choose for our first play?" and a monoto- 



IT WAS "TRILBY" 221 

nously recurrent vote cast by Lackaye for 
"Trilby" until at last every one broke down and 
consented. 

But there have been magnificent revivals in 
America, too. Notably, there was a splendiferous 
revival in 1915 and also a brief one made at the 
New Amsterdam ten years before. Again Miss 
Harned as the Trilby, again Lackaye dying, head 
down, eyes popping, over the table. Again the 
cheers. The Palmer cast, as printed above, was 
left intact save that now the Gecko was E. W. 
Morrison and William Courtenay the Little 
Billee. 

And this "Trilby" memorandum shall close 
with a memory of that revival of May, 1905, a 
reminder of a most amusing episode which came 
as a rich reward at the end of the big act. The 
curtain rose and fell, rose and fell, and then rose 
with that pause which means the curtain speech. 
It. had been loudly but unspecifically demanded. 
Mr. Lackaye and Miss Harned started forward. 
There was an embarrassed hesitation, a pause, and 
the curtain fell. It rose again. Again, in response 
to the continued cries of "Speech, speech," each 
star made for the center of the stage. Each wav- 
ered uncertainly. There was a deferential dead- 



222 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

lock. The curtain fell. It rose again, but this 
time Miss Harned gracefully stepped aside and 
Mr. Lackaye was left to say how kind, how very 
kind, every one had been. Which was true, but 
who shall ever say for whom those curtain calls 
were meant — whose curtain speech was wanted *? 



XV 

"PALMY DAYS" 

OF recent plays one which charmed and enter- 
tained me much more than it seemed to 
charm and entertain any one else was a fondly 
written comedy called "Palmy Days," which 
Augustus Thomas brought to New York like a 
voice out of the past. An account of it may not 
be out of place in these pages because it will serve 
to illustrate how much extra enjoyment may be 
derived just from poking about back-stage to see 
from what sources and by what accidents a play 
may chance to take its final form in New York. 
The story of "Palmy Days" does suggest how 
plays happen in our theater. 

California in the raw and turbulent fifties, the 
Far West in the days of the vigilantes and of lone- 
some, swift-shooting men, grown rich and reck- 
less with new struck pay-dirt, dusty saddle-bags, 
heavy with the winnings of last night's faro game, 
bloodhounds baying ominously up the trail, and 

the alkali desert, with its lone path marked by 

223 



224 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

wagon junk and bones — all this color and flavor 
of the Bret Harte stories was in "Palmy Days." 

The scene is Lone Tree — not far, as the imagi- 
nation flies, from Roaring Camp — and the story 
unfolds in Mrs. Curley's bar, which, considering 
the number of times they shoot up the bars at 
Arroya and Alta Vista and Red Gulch, is a regu- 
lar scandal for its respectability. There the com- 
manding figure in the community is a mighty 
miner with a patriarchal beard and a memory as 
full of quotations as "Hamlet," one Cassius M. 
McBrayer, known among all the folk of that trail 
as good old Kaintuck. 

McBrayer^ embodied with great skill and quite 
unrecognizable humanity by Wilton Lackaye, has 
the echoes of old greenrooms in all his speech and 
the memory of fine old bosom-beating actors in his 
every step and gesture. He had not really been an 
actor himself, but he had been Edwin Forrest's 
dresser and he used to tell the chuckling crowd in 
Ma Curley^s bar that, though he had made only 
one appearance on the stage in all his life, on that 
single occasion he got more applause and more 
laughter and tears in a minute than Forrest ever 
got in an entire season. Handkerchiefs were 
waved at him. Fine ladies turned to men they 



"PALMY DAYS" 22? 

had never spoken to before and beat them on the 
back. Even an old wardrobe woman kissed him 
in the exhilaration of that great occasion. 

That was when Forrest used him to enter King 
Richard's tent with the line : "A gentleman who 
says his name is Stanley awaits without." The 
stage-struck dresser went without his dinner to 
practise this exacting role and had it letter-perfect. 
But, when he came on, there was the dread For- 
rest glaring at him, there were the bewildering 
footlights, the people, the crowded dress-circle, 
and the gallery with white faces leaning out of it. 
He stammered, reeled, stuck, and all that came 
from his trembling lips, the automatic repetition 
of something he had had to say a thousand and 
one times to the amatory tragedian, was the price- 
less and telltale line: "There's a lady down- 
stairs." 

Shortly after that inauspicious debut, young 
McBrayer had become convinced that Forrest was 
the father of the baby his wife was expecting. 
So out he cleared to roam the world and show up 
after many adventures as Kaintuck in Lone Tree. 
The first act of "Palmy Days" finds him part- 
owner of the richest claim on the trail, for he and 
his young pardner, Davy Crockett Woodford^ 



226 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

have struck pay dirt in the Metamora. It finds 
him rumbling and uneasy because Davy has gone 
mad for love of the Cricket. 

The Cricket is the young star of a barn-storm- 
ing troupe consisting of herself, her mother (a 
square-jawed tragedy queen), and her stepfather, 
the blackface banjo king, who vamps and revamps 
George Christy's stuff for the mining-camps of 
the new California. The Cricket is another Lotta, 
and as she dances the longhorns throw dust and 
hard money and watches at her feet just as later 
they were to throw their gold and their hearts at 
the feet of Lotta when the Far West was young. 

It is a comically rude and primitive entertain- 
ment staged there on the improvised platform in 
Ma Curlefs bar for the delectation of Big Lit 
and Bud Farrell and Ledyenworth and Texas 
and Fargo Bill and One-eyed Conover and all 
the rest; but while the Cricket is casting wistful 
eyes at handsome, moonstruck Davy Woodford, 
her mother, knowing they knocked them cold in 
Omaha and Kansas City, dreams of further tri- 
umphs in the East, in New York, even in London 

The climax comes when Kaintuck, bent on res- 
cuing Davy from the toils of this painted crea- 
ture, recognizes her as his own daughter — unmis- 



"PALMY DAYS" 227 

takably his own daughter, for she is the living spit 
of Susan Blackburn McBrayer, his mother, whose 
portrait, painted on ivory by Stuart, is all he has 
clung to through the years. There follows, of 
course, a turbulent scene in the audience and then 
a scene of reunion behind the curtains. The tra- 
gedy queen has the vapors at once. "He's your 
damned father, dearie," she explains to the 
startled Cricket, and, protesting that they need n't 
ask her to read Dickens while sitting on a volcano, 
must needs be revived by a slug of whisky before 
she dare venture before her public with the death 
of Little Nell. Meanwhile the calls out front are 
all for a joint appearance of Kaintuck and the 
Cricket. Kaintuck is pushed on to the stage, 
promising to give the Cricket a recognizable cue 
for her entrance. From your vantage point be- 
hind the back-drop you can hear the old man pre- 
paring for her. 

"Ye call me chief I" he thunders. 

"My God," wails the tragedy queen, "he 's 
going to give them 'Spartacus.' " 

But he shifts in time to "There's a lady down- 
stairs," and on the roar of appreciation which that 
evokes out front the curtain falls. 

In this comedy, so neatly and simply put to- 



228 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

gether, Augustus Thomas, with a skill and an 
affection not many of his brother playwrights 
could have brought to the task, catches for a few 
hours in the theater of to-day some of the stuff 
that used to be part of our national life, catches 
and holds for the younger generation some fast- 
fading memories of the America that was. 

The play is so obviously authentic that it is 
worth while considering its origins and sources, a 
process rarely profitable in these days when, al- 
though the mimeograph press-sheet may say that 
the idea for "The Lizard Girl" came to Marma- 
duke Snooks as he was lounging at his shooting- 
lodge in the Adirondacks, you have reason to sus- 
pect that it really came to him when a manager 
telephoned to ask him how many hours it would 
take him to come downtown and naturalize a Ger- 
man comedy that had just arrived. 

"Palmy Days" was born of a sketch produced 
at the Lambs' Gambol, which Arthur Hopkins 
directed. That sketch, based in turn on a short 
story dramatized by Edward Flammer, revealed 
Wilton Lackaye in a guise unfamiliar even to 
those who had known him long and seen him in 
many parts, from the speculator in "The Pit" to 
the venom-visaged Svengali in "Trilby." In this 



"PALMY DAYS" 229 

sketch he was merely a flowing-bearded lounger 
in a Western bar, a bibulous but chivalrous old 
duffer who radiated a certain wonderful kindli- 
ness. Before the evening was gone and while 
Lackaye was still plucking tufts of his heroic 
beard from his startled face, Mr. Thomas had 
dropped up to his dressing-room to say, "Well 
done," and suggest ever so tentatively a play 
around this new characterization. "Palmy Days" 
grew from that, and within a year Mr. Lackaye 
was to come to town with the fiiie and striking 
portrait of Kaintuck. 

Nothing of the original sketch was left save the 
astonishing Lackaye make-up and a single line of 
the text, a line inserted, incidentally, by Lackaye 
himself. It comes at the climax of the second act, 
when the baying dog tracks old Kaintuck to the 
saloon and the reckless Farrell has the drop on 
him. It is Big Lil who knocks up FarrelVs gun 
and drags him away. 

"In that case," says Farrell sententiously and 
with great scorn, "I bid you good evening." 

To which bid Kaintuck replies with an ele- 
gantly imp>erturbable drawl : 

"I sees your 'Good evening' and I raises you 
*Au revoir.' " 



230 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

So much for the origin of "Palmy Days." Its 
sources are manifold and fairly familiar. The 
Bret Harte background is unmistakable. You 
would know that the Bret Harte stories had been 
reread for "Palmy Days," but if you had watched 
the whole succession of Thomas plays you would 
also know that he really needed no fresh course in 
the author of "Tennessee's Pardner" and "The 
Outcasts of Poker Flat." The flavor of these 
stories has been in some of his earlier plays, and 
it was a passage from Bret Harte that echoed 
liked a dear refrain through the memorable scene 
in "The Witching Hour" when the Judge — 
was n't it Russ Whytal who played the part? — 
read over softly the quatrain: 

The delicate odor of mignonette, 

The ghost of a dead and gone bouquet, 

Is all that tells of her story ; yet 
Could she think of a sweeter way? 

Then there 's the quoting actor. The old fellow 
of the theater, whose every-day speech is a patter 
of apt bits from old plays, is a familiar figure, a 
type that is passing. The young actor, whose 
career has consisted of eighteen motion-pictures 
and a perfectly corking performance for four years 
in and out of New York in "The Broken Chain" 



m 



"PALMY DAYS" 231 

can hardly be said to have a repertoire, indeed has 
never spoken a line worth remembering. 

You may be sure that one of those strange sets 
of warped and coffee-stained books on "The Lives 
of Great Actors," such as you used to be able to 
pick up in the second-hand book-stores, would 
have furnished enough material to support the 
tradition of a heart-breaking Forrest which looms 
in the background of "Palmy Days." As for the 
incident of the "There 's a lady downstairs" ca- 
tastrophe, well, it actually happened with devas- 
tating effect in this very town some twenty years 
ago. The Richard stamping about his tent on that 
occasion was none other than the late Nat Good- 
win. 

And, of course, there is the inescapable sugges- 
tion of Lotta in the Cricket. Lotta's real name 
was Charlotte Crabtree and she was born in Grand 
Street seventy-two years ago, the daughter of an 
Englishman who kept a book-shop in Nassau 
Street, which was very likely in the thinly popu- 
lated outskirts of the city in those days. Her pro- 
fessional beginnings were made as a child dancer 
out among the California miners at Laporte and 
Rabbit Valley, whither, presumably, her folks 
had gone in quest of the new-found gold that was 



232 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

drawing every adventurous spirit to the Far West. 
The memory of a saucy minx dancing in some 
forgotten San Francisco museum while a fiddler 
played for dear life and the uplifted miners 
showered their gold at her feet, that is the memory 
of Lotta which survives in many a tale and which 
must have suggested the Cricket for "Palmy 
Days." 

The dream of the Cricket's mother came true 
for Lotta, for the East, New York, even London, 
bore witness to her eventual triumph. Even Lon- 
don saw and liked her playing of the Marchioness 
in a wild stage version of "The Old Curiosity 
Shop." Augustus Thomas used to see Lotta when 
her annual engagement in St. Louis was a great 
event. She was the forerunner of many a prom- 
ising soubrette, and when young Minnie Mad- 
dern, in very short skirts and an impish manner 
that went well with her red hair, toured the Far 
West of the eighties in preposterous melodramas, 
she was following a trail which Lotta had blazed 
for her. 

They are fast friends now, Lotta and Mrs. 
Fiske, for, though the actress who once set many 
a heart a-thumping under the red shirts in the old 
California mining-camps has not been heard from 



"PALMY DAYS" 233 

since her withdrawal from the stage about thirty 
years ago, she is living in sedate retirement in 
Boston. 

There happened on the first night of "Palmy 
Days" one of those eleventh-hour assumptions of 
a difficult role — going on without rehearsal, as- 
tonished and delighted managers, five-year con- 
tracts, and all that sort of thing — which occa- 
sionally enliven the theater. Came the first night 
of the new Thomas comedy and there was no one 
to play the bloodhound who must come racing 
along the trail with lolloping tongue and simple 
earnestness, charge through the crowded bar, and 
pick Kcdntuck out of the mob there. 

The producer of "Palmy Days" was confronted 
with a problem. Just as it is difficult to find ac- 
tors nowadays with any Shaksperian repertoire, 
so you can no longer send around the corner and 
get some talented stage-struck bloodhounds as you 
could in the days when there were 'Elizas to be 
pursued in countless productions. The blood- 
hound first engaged for "Palmy Days" became in- 
disposed as rehearsals progressed. A mammoth 
mastiff, costly, purse-proud, and nonchalant, 
was hurriedly forwarded to Atlantic City for the 
premiere there. He sauntered on the stage with 



234 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

such obvious indifference on the subject of Kain- 
tuck's whereabouts, guilt, and aroma that Wilton 
Lackaye was appalled. "We 'd better call him 
Atlantic City," said that outrageous punster, 
* 'because of his bored walk." Laughter by the les- 
ser members of the company. Feeble laughter by 
the worried management. 

Then, when the opening night came in New 
York, it was the playwright's own dog who saved 
the day, the stunning Belgian police-dog brought 
to him from the Army of Occupation by his son. 
This dog was a shaggy, affable, easily excited fel- 
low named Luxembourg, after the duchy in which 
he joined Major Luke Thomas's outfit. Lux 
knew only one trick, but he knew that very well. 
When questioned as to the whereabouts of Mr. 
Thomas's hat, he would lift his beautiful head 
toward the heavens and howl till he found it. 
Then he shut up. 

It was very easy. They hid him in a high dress- 
ing-room at the Playhouse. They gave Kaintuck 
Mr. Thomas's hat to hold. At the cue toward the 
end of the second act, Luke Thomas, crouching 
over the dog, whispered, "Where 's that hat?" 
Faintly to the audience in the theater below came 
the sound of a dog hot on the scent. Nearer and 



"PALMY DAYS" 235 

nearer came the treble of his baying. Then it 
sounded just outside Ma Curie y's bar. Then into 
the crowded room he plunged, shoving this way 
and that, straight across to where Kaintuck 
lounged against the bar. The scene was saved. 



XVI 
MR. TINNEY 

THIS is the story of Philadelphia's fastest 
embalmer and how he became a Broadway 
star. To be sure he was also a fire-engine driver 
of no mean attainments and for several summers 
he swanked about as chief life-guard on the At- 
lantic City beach next the steel pier. Then the 
war made a captain of him. But these were mere 
avocations. Twenty years ago he really was set- 
tled for life as an undertaker's assistant in a city 
that is extremely partial to funerals, when an 
inner urge, driven on by circumstances over which 
he had precious little control, turned him into a 
popular comedian. That is the tale to be told, and 
its hero is known to the parish register as Frank 
Aloysius Robert Tinney. 

Most chronic playgoers know Tinney, his tricks 
and his manners. For even if they have not seen 
him in the flesh, they have at least run into one 
or another of the several mimics who sustain life 

in the English music-halls and the American 

236 



MR. TINNEY 237 

vaudeville temples by giving imitations of him. 
They know how he comes shuffling out and an- 
nounces trustingly that he is about to tell the story 
of the goat that had its nose cut off. With much 
pother and whispering, with grave and naive con- 
viction that the point of the jest is a momentous 
matter to be approached thoughtfully and, if any 
error creeps in, to be reapproached, he goes into 
audible consultation with the orchestra-leader. 
He spends several minutes instructing that con- 
temptuous accomplice how to feed him with the 
right cue by asking: "But how does he smell*?" 
Only the wretched fellow mixes things up by 
asking: "Dear, dear, how does the unhappy 
quadruped breathe?" So poor Tinney, who had 
hoped to shout "Rotten !" at the top of his lungs, 
is covered with confusion and beats a retreat by 
playing "Poet and Peasant" on the bagpipes. 

When you thus find a fellow-citizen deriving 
an income comparable to that of the President 
of the United States by the simple process of tell- 
ing bad jokes as badly as possible, you can't help 
speculating on the process by which he built up 
so strange a commodity. Of Tinney, certainly, 
you always wonder vaguely where he got his style, 
where he got his jokes, and where he got his shoes 



238 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

— those monstrous and unbelievable shoon which 
leave so little room on the stage for any one else. 

As to his style, it was an accident. Tinney 
was living with his folks in Philadelphia when, at 
the age of five, he somehow convinced his father 
that a stage career awaited him. In a church en- 
tertainment in their parish, he had, it is true, pro- 
voked the laughter of the audience. But this had 
been quite imintentional. Still, the memory of 
that laughter and applause hung around the Tin- 
ney menage^ and before long the youngster was 
assailed with burnt cork, thrust into starched 
white dresses, and sent forth to sing three times 
a day at Keith's old Bijou Theater in Eighth 
Street — a famous vaudeville house known to the 
natives as the Buy Joe. 

Forty dollars a week was to be the salary; and 
by Saturday the management had magnificently 
decided that the new-comer, billed as Baby Frank 
Tinney, should be featured and furthermore that 
he had earned the right to appear only twice a day 
during his second week. Unfortunately Tinney, 
pere^ misinterpreted this tribute as an aspersion. 
"My kid 's good enough, he is, to appear five times 
a day," quoth Tinney, pere^ a trifle truculent. 
And so, after one delirious week, the young artist 



_J 



MR. TINNEY 239 

was snatched from the arms of Thespis and packed 
off to school. 

However, he had smelled powder and grease- 
paint, and, just as Laurette Taylor in her child- 
hood used to go the rounds of the church enter- 
tainments in Harlem, so Tinney and his brother 
did songs and dances and jokes at the parochial 
shindigs of their home town. This kept him in 
funds right up to the time when his father, in a 
burst of ambition, dragged him down off the fire- 
engine and sent him struggling to Jefferson Medi- 
cal. There one day our hero heard that while it 
took four years and more to learn to be a doctor, 
it took only six months to learn to be an under- 
taker. To a simple and eager soul, there seemed 
to be no choice in the matter at all, and before 
long the thwarted minstrel was quite the life 
of many a wake on the banks of the Schuyl- 
kill. 

He might have gone on this way indefinitely 
had not the manager of a minstrel show encoun- 
tered him when, like the true Philadelphian he is, 
he was balmily taking the Saturday afternoon air 
on Chestnut Street. Was it true, the manager 
asked, that as a comedian, he was by way of being 
a scream *? "I 'm good, I am," Tirmey replied. 



240 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

And in what vein, the manager asked, did the 
comedy flow*? 

"Well," the unembarrassed embalmer replied, 
"me and my brother, we got two jokes this season, 
we have. I say to him: 'Hey, there, I know 
what 'd stick you.' And he says, 'Do you?' and 
I say 'Yes,' and he says, 'What*?' and I say 'A 
pin.' Then I say to him, I say, 'Say, I certainly 
am sorry I bought that wooden whistle.' And he 
says 'Are you?' and I say 'Yes,' and he says, 
'Well, Frank, why are you sorry you bought the 
wooden whistle*?' and I say 'Because it wouldn't 
whistle.' That 's our line this year," Tinney went 
on. "Of course they might not get it out on the 
road but it goes great here in the city." 

"Well," said the manager reflectively, "I guess 
in my show we '11 just have you sing." 

Yet after the minstrel show had struck out 
along the great highway, it so happened that one 
of the real comedians had the measles or fell 
through a manhole or something, and fate pro- 
pelled Tinney into the center of the stage. He 
was in a panic. "What's the matter of you?" 
asked the manager bitterly. "You claim you 're 
a comedian and now 's your chance." 

But Tinney explained that, whereas he was 



MR. TINNEY 241 

excruciatingly funny, he needed some one with 
him. He could n't work alone. "Well," said the 
manager carelessly, "hx it up with the orches- 
tra-leader. I guess he can ask you the ques- 
tions." 

So Tinney labored to train the orchestra-leader 
as a foil and all went smoothly till the point of the 
wooden whistle wheeze, when Tinney was foiled 
indeed. For the orchestra-leader forgot his part 
and instead of asking helpfully : "Well, Frank, 
why are you sorry you bought the wooden 
whistle'?" he merely said, "Oh, is that so*?" or 
something equally discouraging. 

For a moment the stars reeled in their courses 
while Tinney, staring anxiously across the foot- 
lights, protested: "Say you're crabbing my act, 
you are. You had n't ought to of said that. You 

had ought to of said " and thus went on to 

straighten the fellow out. Onlookers from the 
wings were horrified. "It 's twenty-three for him," 
said the end-man, in the snappy slang of the day. 
"Just listen to him." "Not at all," said the man- 
ager, who must have been a genius in his way, 
"just listen to the audience." 

And, indeed, the audience was in such fits of 
laughter that the outraged orchestra-leader was 



242 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

laboriously instructed that night never under any 
circumstances to give Tinney the right cue. From 
that day to this, Tinney has subsisted almost 
entirely on bad jokes gone wrong. 

So it has happened that he never has needed a 
partner in the sense that Stone had Montgomery 
or that Fields had Weber. He has merely worked 
with whoever was handy. His foils have been 
every orchestra-leader from Los Angeles to Leices- 
ter Square, and he has also pressed into service 
such varied artists as Vernon Castle, Ethel Levey, 
and the old horse who toured with him in "Tickle 
Me." 

The memoirs of this veteran actor — of the 
horse, that is — would make amusing literature. 
He doubtless made his debut in "Mazeppa," and 
it is certain that for many seasons he raced with 
great virtuosity and artistic sincerity in "The 
Country Fair" and "Ben-Hur." Marilynn Mil- 
ler danced on his broad and comfortable back in 
the circus scene of the 1919 "Follies," and then, 
just as he thought he was due for an honorable 
retirement from the stage, Tinney bought him. 
He was much the worse for wear, and his years 
were twenty-eight, but Tinney paid a thousand 
dollars for him because he was an artist. He was 



MR. TINNEY 243 

not only very, very old, but, besides having a 
cracked hoof, was incorrigibly lazy, so that he 
had to be taken to and from the theater in a 
truck. He was just like a chorus-girl, Tinney 
complained, what with his elegant stable and his 
powder and paint and all. This ancient beast's 
main duty in life was to throw a fit eight times a 
week at the very suggestion of Tinney's mounting 
him. He was an amusing old comedian, but they 
do say the funniest part of "Tickle Me" was the 
scene the audience never saw. It was the affec- 
tionate exchange of badinage and insults between 
Tinney and his milk-white steed as they fore- 
gathered in the wings before going on. 

Tinney, then, can pick up his partners wherever 
he happens to be, and no rehearsals are really 
necessary. I was deeply impressed with this fact 
one summer evening back in 1914 when a number 
of us were paying our respects to Ethel Levey in 
her dressing-room at the London Hippodrome. 
A frantic message came from the manager to the 
effect that Shirley Kellogg had unexpectedly 
"biffed off to the Continong" and that Tinney 
wanted Miss Levey to go on in her place with him 
in the restaurant scene. She sent back regretful 
word that she had never even seen it and could n't 



244 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

very well go on without a single rehearsal. Which 
rejoinder brought Tinney in person. 

''Why, Ethel," he said, in loud reproach, "you 
know you don't have to rehearse at all, you don 't. 
I '11 tell you everything to say and you just say 
it." Which sounded so easy that she gave a pat 
to her hair, a switch to her skirts and started for 
the stage. We raced around in front to find them 
already on. Tinney was saying: "Now, Ethel, 
let 's do the joke about the peas. Come ahead, 
Miss Levey, stop laughing and we '11 do the joke 
about the peas. You say you think my table 
maimers are perfectly elegant and you ask me 
how I manage to keep my peas from rolling off 
my knife." 

"Well, Frank," Miss Levey repeated dutifully, 
"how do you keep your peas from rolling off your 
knife?" 

"Why, Ethel, that 's easy, that is — I mix 'em 
up with my mashed potato." 

And so it went for fifteen minutes. The last we 
saw of them, they were bowing hand in hand, with 
Tinney much affected and thanking every one for 
being so kind to him and Ethel and the children. 

That 's Tinney's style and that 's where he 
found it. His shoes'? Well, he inherited them 



MR. TINNEY 245 

from a vaudeville monologist who had bought 
them thirty years before from an old darky in 
Alabama. They cost fifty cents. Tinney got 
them for nothing. 

His jokes'? He picks those up around town. 
When he feels a new show impending he sends for 
one of those Times Square scribblers who make 
their living by writing monologues and orders a 
new one from him. This he reads over and pro- 
nounces terrible. He then reads it to Willie 
Collier who makes suggestions while Tinney 
makes notes. It is next tried on Cohan. More 
suggestions and more notes. He then goes in 
despair to Tommy Gray, who puts in what Tinney 
calls the "nifties." As when he now glowers at 
the orchestra-leader and says: "You're like a 
man who wears a toupee — you 're only kidding 
yourself," or again: "I ain't going to have more 
than three children, I ain't, because, look here, I 
read in an almanac that every fourth person bom 
into the world is a Chinaman." 

Yet with all this prayerful preparation, most of 
Tinney's fun just crops up fresh and unstudied 
as a result of the first impact between him and his 
audience. The biggest laugh that ever rewarded 
him shook the New Amsterdam Theater the open- 



246 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

ing night of "Watch Your Step." That was a 
revue that had not one star but a constellation. 
The Castles, Brice and King, Sallie Fisher, Harry 
Kelly and his dog — these had all done their best 
tricks, but 10:30 had come and gone and there 
was no sign of Tinney. We had come to the con- 
clusion that he was laid low on some bed of pain 
when, in the Palm Beach hotel scene, Vernon 
Castle called out: "Where 's the hat-boy*?" On 
rushed Tinney, breathless. As the welcome sub- 
sided, he could be heard explaining plaintively: 
*'I 've been sitting out there all blacked up since 
half-past seven waiting for that dirty bum to say : 
'Where 's the hat-boy?' " Whereupon, as the 
English newspapers say, laughter and applause. 



XVII 
THE "CHAUVE-SOURIS" 

OUT of Russia by devious ways there came to 
us early in 1922 a jaunty and delightful 
entertainment, which, to avoid confusion, was 
called here by the name it used in Paris — the 
Chauve-Souris. It is a vagrant troupe of Russian 
singers and dancers and clowns who used to con- 
tribute to a midnight frolic they enjoyed giving 
behind closed doors after theater time at the little 
Bat Restaurant in Moscow. As long ago as 1908 
the custom was inaugurated of opening those 
doors to the public on five nights of the week. 
And once every year, by way of wild dissipation, 
the master of their revels, this moon-faced Nikita 
Balieff from Armenia, would take them all up 
Petrdgrad way to play for the gentry of the 
Romanoff court. On those eventful excursions it 
seems unlikely that Balieff's dreams ever foresaw 
how within ten years (due to such remote causes 
as the intrigues of far-off chancelleries, a certain 
Prussian fellow's delusions of grandeur, and an 

247 



248 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

uncertain invisible force known as Pan-Slavism) 
he and his fellow-players would be singing their 
old songs and cracking their old jokes in a shiny 
new theater in Forty-ninth Street, New York. 

Two stranded cockles from the sea of the revo- 
lution, left in Paris by its receding tide — behold 
them now, Balieff and his gigantesque partner 
Wavitch. By various ruses they succeeded at last 
in gathering about them enough of their old com- 
rades to go back into the show business with their 
familiar repertoire. Here, perhaps, were two sin- 
ewy dancers who had come over to France during 
the war in that forlorn Russian contingent which 
floated hapless along the Western front. Or 
maybe three of the women who had escaped to 
Warsaw heard that good old Balieff was in Paris 
and trekked precariously across Germany to rejoin 
him. Or perhaps Wavitch, in his flight through 
Odessa and the Mediterranean cities, remembered 
an address in Constantinople that would serve to 
unearth two engaging comedians foregathered for 
the moment with the Turks. At all events, de- 
spite the great dispersion, Balieff managed to 
piece a troupe together, and in December of 1921 
he took over the Theatre Femina in the Avenue of 
the Elysian Fields. Because the French (the 



THE "CHAUVE-SOURIS" 249 

same silly people who call a hat a chapeau) have 
a perverse way of referring to a bat as a bald 
mouse, he was obliged to name his little Bat 
Theater the Chauve-Souris. Paris adored the 
Ckauve-Souris, flocking to it from early December 
till August. 

It has since been described here as the sensation 
of Paris and London. It was hardly a sensation 
in London. Eventually six of its numbers en- 
joyed satisfactory acclaim in the music-halls, but 
Cochran's first effort to make the Chauve-Souris 
an English fad by charging a pound a seat for it 
at a special theater was rebuffed by the London 
playgoer. This is not surprising. The London 
playgoer is the fellow who could not be dragged 
to see "Heartbreak House" or "The Jest" or 
"John Ferguson" or "He Who Gets Slapped" or 
"Liliom." On the other hand, he went for a solid 
year to "The Voice From the Minaret." He went 
for two or three years to that darling of his heart, 
"Paddy, the Next Best Thing." A rum cove, the 
London playgoer. The rumor that he sniffed at 
the Chauve-Souris quite whetted the American 
appetite to see it. 

The Chauve-Souris is a little baffling. It is dif- 
ficult to describe it because the satisfactions it 



250 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

gives are so varied and sometimes so impalpable. 
It is Russian vaudeville, but to say so is to apply 
a discolored word to it. The second wit of his 
time suggests as an appropriate variant that we 
call it vodkaville. It is hard to sum up in a word 
because two or three of its thirteen numbers are 
ordinary enough, while, on the other hand, two or 
three are at once precious and universal — as 
"Alice in Wonderland" is. Consider, for instance, 
that blessed march of the wooden soldiers, who 
drill with immense gravity to the measures of a 
dear old tune. Your great joy in them is blended 
of nursery memories and an adult admiration for 
the rare precision of their craftsmanship. Ring 
Lardner, Mrs. Fiske, and the little boy from next 
door could sit in a row before them and experience 
a common rapture. Their drill is an exquisite 
thing in that it is exquisitely done, just as "Le 
Spectre de la Rose" was an exquisite thing only 
when Nijinski and Lopokova danced it together. 
It is a perfect thing in the sense that "The Man 
Who Married a Dumb Wife" was perfect, as 
"The Roman Road" by Kenneth Grahame is per- 
fect, as the Noctambule song in "Louise" is per- 
fect when Diaz sings it. 

Because it began informally, and because the 



THE "CHAUVE-SOURIS" 251 

wily BaliefF knows full well that its continued 
informality is the very breath of its nostrils, he 
works artfully to keep going, however far from 
Moscow, the same neighborly, haphazard, drop- 
in-for-a-moment atmosphere of the little restau- 
rant back home. The Raymond Hitchcock of the 
Chauve-Souris, he stands in front of it and chats 
about it whimsically with the delighted audience 
— chats about it in a comic pitter-patter of re- 
cently acquired English which is so amateurish 
that it adds measurably to the gaiety of the pro- 
ceedings. When the Chauve-Souris is in New 
York, it is great fun to go of a Tuesday afternoon, 
when the house is full of show-folks escaped from 
their own plays and hurrying at once to this odd 
adventure. Balieff (coached, one suspects, by his 
confederate, Morris Gest) discovers Doris Keane 
out front and makes obeisances to his new czarina. 
He rejoices audibly that Clare Sheridan has come 
for the second time and paid him the compliment 
of bringing her children with her. The audience 
begins to limber up and grow neighborly. Appeals 
for encores and explanations are showered down 
from the balcony in a dozen languages. Balieff 's 
thin trickle of English dries up. He retreats to 
French and attempts a pow-wow with Lenore 



252 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Ulric in that language, but she protests that she 
does not know enough of it. The balcony insists 
on having that Tartar dance over again. Balieff 
vows it can 't be done. He says so in Russian 
and appeals plaintively to Al Jolson to play in- 
terpreter. Master Jolson, who knows two words 
of Russian at the most, is not daunted by that 
circumstance. The dancer, he confides to the audi- 
ence, can hardly repeat the number because he is 
already half-way down the street where he has a 
date with a Russian caviar. Balieff, who iden- 
tifies the one word caviar and can't for the life of 
him see where that fitted in, escapes under cover 
of the laughter and announces the final number. 
It is, he explains, his own farewell apparition for 
the afternoon. Which little slip, together with 
Jolson's earnest effort to have him say "opera- 
tion" instead, increases the playgoer's good hu- 
mor and, grinning on his way out, it requires a 
distinct effort at repression on his part to keep 
from saying good-by to every one in the house. 

You might get some notion of the Chauve- 
Souris of what it is and how it came here, if you 
would imagine an American revolution blowing 
all this present-day structure to smithereens and 
landing Elsie Janis, destitute but spunky, in 



THE "CHAUVE-SOURIS" 253 

Buenos Aires. She might run into the fugitive 
Fred Stone on the street. He would have heard 
that two old-time dancers from his company were 
clogging for their board over in Valparaiso. And 
she might have news that Nora Bayes was singing 
in a cabaret up in Rio. There would be some good 
singers of spirituals, too, stranded in the Argen- 
tine who might be summoned. What would be 
easier than to collect these scattered bits of Broad- 
way and start work on a little program of old 
songs and old steps? What more natural than 
that they should become a fad there and later find 
profit in touring as far as Tokio and Shanghai? 

Or, perhaps it would be simpler just to suggest 
that all those playgoers who especially enjoyed 
"Peter Pan" and "The Yellow Jacket" and 
"Pierrot the Prodigal" would do well to look into 
this Chauve-Souris and see if it has not something 
to say to them. 



XVIII 

After a season in which nearly every heroine 
was ruined either just before the first act or at the 
climax of the third and^ in particular^ after seeing^ 
in that one season^ two plays by Zoe Akins in each 
of which the heroine kept being ruined and ruined 
and ruined^ this hitherto blameless chronicler of 
the theater momentarily lost control of himself^ 
went mad, and wrote the following play, which 
was produced for the first and last time on any 
stage at the Forty-ninth Street Theater in New 
York on April jo, ig22» 



254 



ZOWIE; OR, THE CURSE OF AN 
AKINS HEART 

— a romanza in one act — 

''Nor all your piety and wif — From the Persian. 

Scene — ^A Place in the heart of a great city. 
Time — Printemps, 1922. 

Cast (as given at the world premiere, 
April 30, 1922) 

Marmaduke La Salle^ a stomach specialist . . 

John Peter Toohey 

Lady Friend of La Salle's Neysa McMein 

Another Lady Friend of La Salle's 

Louise Closser Hale 

Dindo^ a wandering bus-boy J. M. Kerrigan 

Zhoolie V enable^ a suppressed desire 

Ruth Gillmore 

Mortimer Van Loon, a decayed gentleman. . 

George S. Kaufman 

Archibald Van Alstyne, a precisionist 

Alexander WooUcott 

Lemuel Pip, an old taxi-driver, who does not 

appear Harold W. Ross 

Off-stage Music by J. Heifetz 

255 



256 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

[The rising curtain discloses a row of three chairs 
in what seems to be a Capitol hunch. These 
are occupied by La Salle and his guests. 
La Salle is groaning from repletion., and the 
women are redding up their teeth after the 
repast. ]^ 

La Salle. Well, we might as well be going. 
I can't eat any more. I 'm already seventeen 
calories beyond the limit. [Confidentially but 
audibly] Got a lot of wind on the stomach as it is. 
[To bus-boy] Boy, just a minute. 

DiNDO [who never can decide whether he is a 
darky waiter or a gargon from Marseilles or a 
faithful old Hindu servant]. Whaddya want*? 

La Salle [pointing out of the window] . Who 
is that strangely wistful-looking woman getting 
out of that taxicab? 

DiNDO [deciding^ for the moment., to be Swiss]. 
That, sir, is Zhoolie Venable. There are those of 
us who remember when she was the toast of the 
Riviera. 

First Lady Friend [who is much interested 
but not very bright]. The Shubert-Riviera? 

DiNDO [ignoring her]. Poor Marcel Schwob 
called her the lost laughter of an unfrocked 
priest. 



THE CURSE OF AN AKINS HEART 257 

La Salle. Well, I guess we must go now. 
That's about all the antecedent action, is n't it? 

DiNDo. Yes, sir. 

La Salle. Any atmosphere to arrange? 

DiNDO. I think we have plenty, sir. 

La Salle [reluctant to leave]. Don't want 
any fine language? What about a little reference 
to a strain of music that is hauntingly reminiscent? 
Or to the salvage of a wrecked life? Or perhaps 
a little quotation out of Bartlett? 

DiNDO [who has him there]. As for instance? 

La Salle. Well, my part seems to be just a 
feeder. [Laughs heartily and^ in high good hu- 
mor, surrenders the center of the stage]. Say, 
that was a nifty was n't it? 

DiNDO [chuckling]. It was damned good, if 
I may say so, sir. 

La Salle. Here, let me have the checks. 

\Exeunt omnes, Dindo gathering up the rem- 
nants of the feast and clearing away. From with- 
out., apparently from the kitchen or the cashier s 
cage, float the strains of ''Then You 'II Remem- 
ber Me.'' Enter Zhoolie. She is clad in a 
sumptuous evening gown, over which a sable cloak 
has been thrown carelessly. She wears a tiara, a 
rope of pearls and nine bracelets. She carries a 
glass of milk and no purse, but, for reasons never 



258 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

quite explained^ a riding -crop swings from one 
wrist. She prudently lodges the glass of milk on 
the center chair-arm^ and then strides up and 
down the restaurant in great emotion and^ indeed^ 
does not sit down until the music has run its 
course,^ 

Zhoolie. Oh, to be in England, now that 
Johnny Weaver is in New York I 

[E/z/^r DiNDO.] 

DiNDO \gruffiy\. The taxi-driver is outside 
and says do you want him to wait*? 

Zhoolie \a little flurried]. How Hfe pursues 
one* Tell the fellow we shall meet again. 
[DiNDO is so impressed by this that he bows out 
backward in the manner of a Hindu servant and 
only just succeeds in repressing an impulse to say, 
"Yes, sahib."] 

[ Enter Van Loon, who seats himself at 
Zhoolie's left^ sighs deeply, and begins to eat a 
sandwich. His teeth are well embedded when a 
little cry of recognition from her rivets him in 
that pose. As Zhoolie speaks, her manner be- 
com^es more and more palpitant and her voice 
grows preposterously like Ethel Barrymore's. But 
before she can speak at all he sees her absurd 
riding-crop.} 



THE CURSE OF AN AKINS HEART 259 

Van Loon. Well, how 's crops? 
Zhoolie. You I 

Van Loon [desdrous to please^ but busy with 
his sandwich^. I think so. 

Zhoolie. To think of meeting you here I 

Van Loon. Let me see, you were 

Zhoolie. That night 



Van Loon. That night at Chamonix 

Zhoolie. No! no! Yes! yes! At Chamou- 
nix. I see you now. You stood lithe and a little 
dear and splendid there by the Mer de Glace. 
Ever and always in my heart, silhouetted against 
an amethystine sky. Those dear, lesser skies of 
our triste yesterdays. [Coughs apologetically and 
amused at her scatter-brained^ Venable ways.\ 
I 'm afraid I 've forgotten your name. 

Van Loon. At Chamounix. Then you were 
— you must have been — she of whom all men 
dreamed. You were the next to the last of the 
Mad Varicks. 

Zhoolie. I was the last! Only, this year, 
they 're calling me the first of the Mad Venables. 

Van Loon [beginning to expand]. And I 
am 

Zhoolie [gravely sweet in manner but not 
really interested in any one else's biography.^ 



26o SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Dear friend, dear, dear old friend, does it mat- 
ter? You and I — two plaintive notes in the over- 
tones of the great symphony, two bits 

Van Loon [apprehenswely]. Two bits*? 

Zhoolie. Two bits of sorry driftwood, 
swirled together for yet another moment by some 
whimsical, some capricious, eddy. 

Van Loon [cheerfully]. Very good, eddy. 

Zhoolie. What matter names'? Let them 
call us what we really are — flotsam and jetsam. 

Van Loon [dubiously]. Sounds too much 
like a sister act. 

Zhoolie. We may come to vaudeville yet. 
What is life but a great circuit. Your heart 
yearns for the Palace and 

Van Loon. And Fate books you on Fox time. 
It 'shell! 

[Enter Van Alstyne, superb in crush-hat, 
opera cape^ ivory-headed sticky white gloves, and 
carrying a glass of simple milk. He eyes Van 
LooN disdainfully and takes the third seat. He 
is beginning to drink when arrested by another of 
Zhoolie's little cries of recognition.^ 

Zhoolie. You! 

Van Alstyne. You! 

Zhoolie. You! 



THE CURSE OF AN AKINS HEART 261 

Van Loon [in her ear]. Was he one of us, 
too? 

Zhoolie [whispering back]. I suppose so. 

Van Alstyne [beginning to catch the spirit]. 
That night 

Van Loon [to Zhoolie]. Ah, he was one of 
us, all right. 

Zhoolie [a little amused]. I never seem to 
have done anything in the daytime. 

Van Alstyne [not to be deflected]. That 
night on the Nevsky Prospect, with all great 
Russia's snows for our couch 

Zhoolie [shivering]. Was n't it Lake Como? 
Oh, say it was the Lago di Como. [This cue is 
too much for the violin in the kitchen., which 
breaks into "O Sole Mio," of course.] 

Van Alstyne [stiffly]. It was the Nevsky 
Prospect. 

Zhoolie. Oh, say it was the Palazzo at 
Campo Santo, while the dear tawny boys with 
their eyes of jet — the lads from our own Napoli 
— sang beneath our balcony. And far out across 
a topaz bay came the first, frightened chill of 
another autumn. 

Van Alstyne [impressed, but firm]. It was 
the Nevsky Prospect. 



262 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

Van Loon [a little annoyed at being left out 
of all tlfiis^ . How is the Prospect these days, any- 
how? 

DiNDO [in passing]. Terrible. 

Van Alstyne. And now you have come to 
this. 

Zhoolie [cowering, heart-broken]. No. 

Van Alstyne [relentless] . I find you here. 

Zhoolie. No, no. 

Van Alstyne. I find you in this — this — Ah ! 
how in our spinelessness we shun the words that 
sear and scald I — I find you in this — this — place. 

Zhoolie [clutching her riding-crop and lifting 
it to heaven]. No! no! no! 

Van Loon [in a spirit of helpfulness]. She 
says not. 

Zhoolie [clasping her cloak around her]. 
With such as we, there can be no tarrying. Let 
us be gone. 

DiNDO. Can I get you anything, Madame 
Zhoolie*? 

Zhoolie. You, too*? 

DiNDO. I, too, Madame Zhoolie. 

Zhoolie [losing track a little]. Was it — 
could it have been — Barcelona? That night 

DiNDO. It was in Cairo, eight years ago come 
All Souls' eve. 



THE CURSE OF AN AKINS HEART 263 
Zhoolie. We met at 



Din DO. It was in the Selig Effendi Cafe, 
Madame. 

Zhoolie. And you 

DiNDO. I was the waiter. 

Zhoolie [embarrassed]. I — I don't seem to 
remember a waiter. [Relieved and ceasing to be 
romantic but becoming terribly gracious at this 
suggestion of an old retainer]. And you have 
remembered all these years. I am touched, boy. 
You have moved me — moved a Venable. 

DiNDO. I have never forgotten. I could never 
forget. You went out without paying your 
check. It was two pounds, seven, and eight. 
They docked me for it. 

Zhoolie [trilling ivith unconvincing delight]. 
How like the VenablesI How like I But I can- 
not have you suffer. [She looks around her with 
a pretty helplessness^ clutches at her pearls^ and 
then decides not to give them^ sees Van Loon's 
dangling ivatch-fob, and, while he is picking his 
teeth, punishes him by taking the watch and hand- 
ing it splendidly to the bus-boy]. Noblesse 
oblige! [To the others]. Come — our little hour 
is spent. 

[Zhoolie and her refound lovers start for the 
doer hand in hand when they are halted by dis- 



264 SHOUTS AND MURMURS 

tressed noises from the bus-boy^ who has come 
upon the lunch checks J\ 

DiNDO. But who will pay for these? 

Zhoolie and Lovers [^in chorus^. God knows! 
\_Exeunt.^ 

DiNDO [smkmg into one of the vacated chairs] . 
What does it all mean? 

Voices [from the empyrean, the wings, the 
cashiers cage, the kitchen, and the audience^. 
God knows I 



CURTAIN 



Date Due 




Library Bureau Cat. No. 1137